WASHINGTON -- President Bush is nominating 11 conservatives to federal appeals courts, after scaling back the size of his first slate of judicial picks in response to Democratic objections.
The nominees themselves are little known outside judicial circles, but their selection offers a first glimpse of Bush's resolve to add conservatives to the federal judiciary and the eagerness of Democrats to stop him.
The White House portrayed the picks as conservative and well-qualified. Bush will welcome them to the White House on Wednesday for a formal nomination ceremony.
"We believe this is the strongest and most diverse slate of judges ever sent up by a president," said White House counsel Al Gonzales.
A senior White House official provided The Associated Press with a list of the nominees.
Though a review of their legal records suggests Bush's first judicial nominees are solidly conservative, he took pains to mollify Democrats by appointing three women, two blacks, one Hispanic and two individuals who originally had been tapped for judgeships by President Clinton.
Seven of the 11 candidates are sitting judges.
None is known as an ideologue or as especially partisan, although it is hard to gauge the prospects for confirmation when the Senate is split 50-50.
Democrats have threatened to hold up the president's nominees, partly in revenge for the delays that met some of Clinton's judicial picks.
One of the more conservative selections, Washington lawyer Miguel Estrada, has a long list of admirers who call him one of the smartest and ethically rigorous lawyers they know. He is a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, the firm that represented Bush at the Supreme Court during the postelection legal fight.
Estrada favors gun control, but believes in the conservative judicial model of reading the "plain language" of a law or of the Constitution.
The White House informally advised lawmakers last week that Bush intended to nominate 15 judges, pending final reviews. Candidates drawing objections from Democrats were pulled from the list, including a GOP congressman from California, as Bush sought a controversy-free first slate.
Bush hopes to nominate the withheld candidates at a later date -- but not for a least a couple of weeks -- after further consultation with Congress, the White House official said.
Republican Rep. Chris Cox was the most prominent candidate tabled, along with Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Carolyn Kuhl for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco and Peter Keisler for the 4th Circuit in Richmond, Va.
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