This time, Obama and CBC agree in close cloture vote

Amid intense lobbying from civil-rights groups, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) joined Democratic leadership yesterday to vote against cloture for controversial judicial nominee Janice Rogers Brown.

Obama late last month broke ranks with the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) by voting yea on a cloture motion for Priscilla Owen, who was nominated to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Obama voted against Owen’s nomination, but she was confirmed, 55-43, on May 25.

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Despite their endorsements of the recent bipartisan deal crafted by 14 senators that averted the so-called “nuclear option,” several top Democrats opted to vote against cloture on the Brown nomination.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who praised the deal, voted against cloture on the nominee for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit yesterday. Reid had voted for ending debate on Owen’s nomination.

Many Democrats “feel that Janice Rogers Brown is outside the mainstream and a judicial activist,” said Jim Manley, Reid’s staff director.

Manley stressed that the deal is still “alive and well” and that it said “nothing to suggest that other Democrats could not vote the way he or she” chose. All of the members of the Gang of 14 voted yea on Brown’s cloture, in accordance with the agreement.

Joe Shoemaker, a spokesman for Senate Assistant Minority Leader Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), said Durbin and most Democrats voted for cloture on Owen as a “show of good faith.”

Shoemaker added, “He has always said he opposed both nominees.”

Brown’s cloture vote passed 65-32, with three members not voting. Every Republican voted for cloture. Democrats not in the Gang of 14 who sided with the GOP included Sens. Thomas Carper (Del.), Kent Conrad (N.D.) and Bill Nelson (Fla.).

The cloture vote on Brown was significantly more partisan than the cloture vote on Owen, which passed 81-18. Other than Reid, Durbin and Obama, Democrats who supported cloture on Owen and rejected cloture on Brown included Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), Ron Wyden (Ore.) and Tim Johnson (S.D.).

A vote to confirm Brown is scheduled for today.

Obama’s office did not return calls for comment. In a statement May 24, Obama extolled the Gang of 14’s deal: “I am pleased that both sides have stepped away from the brink and preserved the role of the minority in the Senate.”

The CBC said in a statement that it "strongly opposes the 'deal' that trades judges who oppose our civil rights for a temporary filibuster ceasefire. This deal is more of a capitulation than a compromise.”

Brown, who was the first black woman appointed the California Supreme Court, has been sharply criticized by several left-leaning groups, including the AFL-CIO, the National Association for the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), which includes the NAACP, and the National Partnership for Women and Families.

Officials with those groups noted that, as an appeals court judge for the D.C. Circuit, Brown — if confirmed — would be deciding many cases involving federal policies on environmental protections and worker rights.

On June 2, the LCCR announced a television campaign featuring 30-second ads in Washington, D.C., Maine, Nebraska and Rhode Island to oppose Brown’s nomination.

Many opponents of her nomination characterize her rulings as anti-government, pro-business and hostile to civil rights because of her opposition to affirmative action in the past. Her advocates laud her as self-starter who worked her way through the ranks to become of the most respected justices in the country.

Bob Cusack contributed to this article.