By Paul Kane
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Ronnie White got the phone call 15 years later than expected. It came from Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), thanking him for his patience.
“Justice delayed is not justice denied,” Durbin said Wednesday, recalling his conversation with White.
Hours later, on a mostly party-line vote, the Senate confirmed White to be a U.S. District Court judge in Missouri. It was a marked reversal from the first time he was up for a lifetime appointment to the federal courts.
In 1999, the GOP-controlled Senate denied White — the first black justice on the Missouri state Supreme Court — a seat on the federal bench. That stunning rejection became an escalating flash point in the Washington confirmation wars that have long pitted Democrats and Republicans against each other.
The political echoes rang on for years, including in an epic 2000 Senate race and in a confirmation battle for U.S. attorney general in 2001.
Wednesday’s roll call vote on White’s nomination also continued a brutally partisan battle over President Obama’s executive and judicial nominees. White’s confirmation was possible only because Senate Democrats unilaterally changed filibuster rules last fall and eliminated the requirement for a super-majority to move presidential appointments.
Since then, the Senate has been locked in a procedural dirge that has left senators discouraged by the notion that the only votes they cast anymore are to confirm nominees such as White.
Durbin, who has seen confirmation fights up close as a Judiciary Committee member, hoped that White’s confirmation would be a calming moment.
“I’m looking for any sign of healing,” he said in an interview.
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