Another Bush judge on the hot seat

Appellate court nominee faces scrutiny for political contributions.

Published December 15, 2006 1:59PM (EST)

When Sen. Patrick Leahy steps in as Judiciary Committee chairman next year -- and he's already talking tough, using that White House-dreaded word subpoena -- one man who will likely have to face him is Judge Thomas M. Hardiman of Pennsylvania. Hardiman is a federal district court judge, appointed by President Bush in 2003, whom Bush has since nominated for a promotion to the nations second highest bench.

Leahy, along with Sen. Russ Feingold, is taking Hardiman to task for political contributions he made to key Republicans while he was under official consideration for his district judgeship, as revealed in October by Salon and the Center for Investigative Reporting, after a four-month investigation of Bush judges. Hardiman gave a combined $4,400 to Republican Sens. Arlen Specter and Rick Santorum (who lost his reelection bid in November) between the time Hardiman interviewed for his judgeship with the senators' selection committee and when Bush nominated him. Such donations have raised ethical questions -- and political giving by judicial candidates was criticized by, among others, several Bush-appointed judges contacted for the Salon/CIR report. Even Specter, the outgoing Judiciary Committee chairman, told Salon he would have instructed Hardiman to stop the contributions if Specter had realized Hardiman was continuing to give him money.

With Hardiman up for a promotion -- nominated by Bush in September to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals -- Leahy and Feingold took the opportunity in November to send Hardiman some pointed written questions.

Hardiman wrote back in early December. "I believe that reasonable minds could differ as to whether individuals under consideration for judicial office should refrain from making political contributions," he said in his response. "In my case, I thought it prudent and appropriate to cease all political activities once I was nominated."

If Bush renominates Hardiman next year (Hardiman never made it through committee in the current Congress), we'll see if "reasonable minds" prevail on the newly Democratic-controlled Judiciary Committee.

By Will Evans

Will Evans is a reporter at the Center for Investigative Reporting. For more on tracking Payne and other federal judges, visit CIR's resource page. The Open Society Institute supports the Center's reporting on the federal judiciary.

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