WASHINGTON — The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday recommended that the full Senate confirm Columbia, S.C., lawyer Mary Geiger Lewis as a federal district judge in a vote of confidence that could yet run aground on partisan opposition.
Lewis's fellow South Carolinian, Sen. Lindsey Graham, was the only Republican who supported her, joining 10 Democrats in the judiciary panel's 11-6 vote.
Graham, of a Seneca, S.C., didn't speak at the committee hearing and said afterward only that he's confident the Senate will confirm Lewis.
But in a highly unusual stance for a home-state senator, Sen. Jim DeMint said after the committee vote that he will oppose Lewis, casting her confirmation in doubt.
DeMint, who voted last fall for two Obama judicial choices from South Carolina, said he's now rejecting all of the president's nominees to protest his winter recess appointments of four controversial nominees to avoid GOP opposition.
"President Obama has shown a complete disdain for the people's elected representatives and our duty to advise and consent on nominations," DeMint told McClatchy.
"Unless he revokes his unprecedented recess appointments that defied the constitutional role of Congress, I don't intend to support any of his judicial nominees this year," DeMint said.
DeMint was, however, willing to return the so-called 'blue slip' for Lewis that home-state senators may withhold from the Judiciary Committee.
By policy, the committee will not move forward on a nominating hearing unless both senators from the nominee's home state return the slips — though doing so does not commit a senator to supporting the nominee, according to the committee.
DeMint's stance on Lewis once again puts him and Graham at odds over an Obama judicial nominee. Graham voted to confirm the president's two Supreme Court choices, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, while DeMint voted against them. Both women now sit on the high court.
With the Senate on winter break, Obama on Jan. 4 named three people — Richard Griffin, Sharon Block and Terence Flynn — to the National Labor Relations Board. Without a quorum, the labor agency had been unable to function.
The NLRB had infuriated DeMint, Graham and other South Carolina Republicans last year with its effort to prevent Boeing from operating a plant to make 787 Dreamliner jets in North Charleston. The agency dropped the case in December.
Also in the face of GOP opposition, Obama on Jan. 4 used a recess appointment to place Richard Cordray at the head of a new watchdog agency, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Lewis, a partner with her husband, Camden, at the Hampton Street firm Lewis & Babcock, is Obama's fifth judicial nominee from South Carolina. The previous four were unanimously confirmed.
But as the presidential election draws closer, GOP senators are letting fewer Obama nominees go through in hopes that a Republican will gain the White House come January.
"The Republicans think they're going to win the presidency, so every person they confirm now is one less vacancy for the Republican president to fill," said Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond law professor.
Graham may have to persuade at least six other Republican senators to vote for Lewis in order to reach the 60 votes needed to cut off debate in the full Senate on her nomination.
The decision to invoke cloture and require 60 votes, instead of the constitutional minimum of 51 for judicial nominees, will rest with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
McConnell, though, may look to DeMint for a signal on how to proceed with Lewis, and the Greenville Republican's opposition now could give the green light to other GOP senators to oppose her.
House Assistant Democratic Leader Jim Clyburn of Columbia, S.C., criticized DeMint and the judiciary panel Republicans who'd voted against Lewis, whom Clyburn had urged Obama to nominate.
"I would hope that Senator Graham's vote and my support are sufficient to get her to a speedy confirmation," Clyburn said in a statement. "If she is not confirmed, it will be a commentary on the poisonous nature of partisan politics rather than her ability to serve with distinction on the federal bench." ON THE WEB Judiciary Watch American Constitution Society United States Senate Judiciary Committee MORE FROM MCCLATCHY Obama chooses S.C. attorney for federal bench Interest groups say Sen. Lindsey Graham is no fiscal hawk Commentary: Lindsey Graham needs to stop flirting with bipartisanship