Posted: Feb. 2, 2007


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

When Delaware had a U.S. senator from each political party, the procedure for naming a new federal judge to the bench here was straightforward.

The senator from the same party as the president -- William V. Roth Jr. for the Republicans and Joseph R. Biden Jr. for the Democrats -- recommended someone, the White House made the nomination, the Senate confirmed it, and that was that.

The lines got fuzzier after the 2000 election. The state had two Democratic senators with Biden and Thomas R. Carper, and the White House had a Republican president with George W. Bush.

Furthermore, this was a much more assertive White House. Not only did the Bush administration look to U.S. Rep. Michael N. Castle, the only Republican in the congressional delegation, for recommendations, it insisted that Castle send a list with multiple candidates.

There was no guarantee that Castle's first choice would be selected -- nor was it, when Bush reached down a three-name list to select Kent A. Jordan for the U.S. District Court in 2002. The White House was riding high, the Delaware delegation fell into step, and Jordan, who was a fine appointment, was confirmed.

Now that Jordan has been elevated to appellate judge, his old seat on the four-member district bench has to be filled. The political climate has changed, however. Presidential power is down, congressional influence is rising, and the Democrats in control of the Senate are feeling friskier.

Certainly Biden is. He is the Foreign Relations Committee chair, a presidential candidate and also a senior member of the Judiciary Committee with jurisdiction over judicial appointments.

"It's not going to be business as usual," Biden said. "If I don't approve it, it's not going anywhere."

There is no sign of friction within the delegation. Castle is collecting applications and plans to run them by Biden and Carper. The congressman expects to send a list, probably with three names, to the White House this month, according to Jeffrey A. Dayton, a senior aide to Castle.

There are a number of candidates coming forward themselves or being urged within legal circles to do so. Chief among them are: Superior Court Judge William C. Carpenter Jr.; U.S. Attorney Colm F. Connolly; Frederick L. Cottrell III, a partner at Richards Layton & Finger; Richard A. Forsten, a partner at Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney; and Andrea L. Rocanelli, the chief disciplinary counsel for the state Supreme Court.

This time the White House has its say, but the delegation members have the last word. "They now have a bigger stick," Dayton said.

# # #

For people who read political tea leaves, there is a new cupful about Mike Castle's plans for 2008.

It comes in the form of a press release from the National Republican Congressional Committee, the House Republicans' political arm responsible for campaign strategy and fund raising. Castle has been appointed to its executive committee.

Never mind that Castle is 67. Never mind that he had a small stroke. Never mind that his percentage of the vote dropped last year. No one takes on a job to elect others without expecting to re-elect himself.

That ought to deflate a lot of Democrats.