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Senate finally confirms some federal judges

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WASHINGTON — The Senate on Friday confirmed federal judges for the first time since the Democrats took control in May, including Roger Gregory, who was initially named to the bench by former President Bill Clinton in a recess appointment after the Republican-run Senate stalled his nomination.

Gregory, who was approved 94-1, is the first black judge to serve on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland. Sen. Trent Lott, the Republican leader from Mississippi, cast the lone vote against him.

Black residents make up 22 percent of the circuit's population, a figure higher than in any other federal jurisdiction. Clinton nominated four black judges to the 4th Circuit but not one was granted a hearing, including Gregory, a Richmond corporate lawyer who was tapped in June 2000.

Before leaving office, Clinton angered some Republicans by giving Gregory a temporary appointment to the court after the Senate adjourned for the year. Such a recess appointee is allowed to serve just one year. President Bush renominated Gregory for a lifetime appointment in May.

"This makes a statement, I think, that is very important," Sen. Tom Daschle, the majority leader from South Dakota, said on Friday in praising both Clinton and Bush for breaking the color barrier on the 4th Circuit.

Virginia's two Republican senators, John W. Warner and George Allen, both called for Gregory's approval. Ronald D. Bonjean, Jr., a spokesman for Lott, said the minority leader's opposition to Gregory was "an institutional decision" designed to protect Senate prerogatives and underscore his stance that "any appointment of federal judges during a recess should be opposed."

Last December, Lott said any presidential appointment of a federal judge during a recess should be opposed and said, "I commit myself now to remember that when there is a Republican administration as well as a Democratic administration."

The Senate on Friday also confirmed two other nominees of Bush's — Sam Haddon and Richard Cebull as U.S. district judges in Montana. Haddon was confirmed 95-0, and Cebull, 93-0.