WASHINGTON -- The Senate confirmed the nomination of Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Diane Sykes Thursday to serve on the federal appeals court in Chicago, despite objections of an Illinois senator.
The vote was 70-27.
Sykes, 46, who was nominated by President Bush last year, will fill a vacancy on 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which handles appeals of federal cases in Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana.
"It is an honor to have been chosen by President Bush for this position, and I greatly appreciate the support of Senator Kohl and Senator Feingold throughout the confirmation process," Sykes said in a statement, referring to Sens. Herb Kohl and Russ Feingold, both D-Wis.
"I look forward to the opportunity to serve the people of Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana as a member of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit," she added.
Prior to the vote, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said Sykes refused to answer questions about her views on the legal foundations of Supreme Court decisions upholding a woman's right to have an abortion and requiring police to advise those under arrest of their rights. Sykes cited the Wisconsin Code of Judicial Conduct's ban on discussing cases that would commit a judge to a certain action.
"This is major league evasion," said Durbin, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
But Sykes' nomination had the support of Kohl and Feingold, both of whom also serve on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
"She would not have received the support of our bipartisan nominating commission without answering their questions," said Kohl, referring to a state commission that recommends judicial candidates. "Further, she would not have received my endorsement had she not answered the questions we asked of her during our interview with Justice Sykes in a forthright and direct manner."
Judiciary Committee Chairman Orin Hatch, R-Utah, called Sykes "a careful, qualified jurist and not an activist."
But Durbin challenged Sykes' impartiality and judgment, calling her biased against defendants. He cited a case in which the Wisconsin Supreme Court voted to overturn a conviction and allow a new trial because one of the jurors did not speak English. Sykes was the lone dissenter.
"I don't believe she can provide good judgment, candor or fair-mindedness -- the kind that we must demand of each person seeking such an important appointment," Durbin said.
Feingold, like Durbin a liberal Democrat, came to the opposite conclusion.
"There are a number of topics on which we do not see eye to eye, but I believe Justice Sykes is well qualified to fill this seat on the Seventh Circuit," he said in a statement.
Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, opposed Sykes' nomination.
"In civil cases, she consistently rules against workers and injured plaintiffs in favor of big business," Leahy said in a statement. "In criminal cases, she routinely rules against the rights of criminal defendants in favor of broad rights for the government."
Sykes will fill the judgeship currently held by Judge John L. Coffey of Whitefish Bay, Wis., who will assume senior status and a reduced workload.
Sykes was a Milwaukee County Circuit Court judge when she was named to the state Supreme Court in 1999 by then-Governor Tommy Thompson, a Republican. She won election the next year to a 10-year term on the high court.
Her departure from the Wisconsin Supreme Court gives Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle a chance to appoint a replacement.
On the Net:
7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals: http://www.ca7.uscourts.gov/