In search of the 'best person for the state'

Judge Edward Lodge replacement process to involve Crapo, Risch

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COEUR d'ALENE - It's time for bipartisanship.

U.S. Sens. Jim Risch and Mike Crapo are likely to work with President Barack Obama to find a replacement for U.S. District Court Judge Edward Lodge.

The federal judge is ending active service on the bench next year, so in a state with no Democrats in major elected office it means two Republican senators and a Democratic president must come to an understanding.

Risch pointed to what he called the "blue-slip custom" in the U.S. Senate.

"It's not widely discussed, but it is a common practice in the United States Senate," Risch said Thursday. "Unless both U.S. senators sign the blue slip and return it to the judiciary and rules committee, that (nominee) will not leave the judiciary and rules committee."

He added that, by custom, every senator maintains some control of a nomination - with "veto power" - over who is appointed from the senator's state to the federal bench.

Jessica Brady, press secretary for the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, said Obama can select whoever he wants as a nominee, but would likely work with Risch and Crapo to find the "best person for the state."

"I look forward to working with the president to select a nominee as part of the senate's role in the advice and consent process," Crapo said Thursday.

Crapo said he also will continue to push for legislation sponsored by Idaho's congressional delegation to create a permanent third District Court judge for Idaho.

Risch said initially there will likely be a lot of whispering about who should get the appointment.

"There will be people who won't be acceptable to Senator Crapo or I, and there will be people who won't be acceptable to the president," Risch said. "But at the end of the day, we'll come up with somebody and fill the spot."

Donald Burnett Jr., a professor of law at the University of Idaho law school, said the U.S. Department of Justice and Idaho congressional delegation likely will work on an informal basis to identify candidates the president could consider for the nomination.

"Partisan differences may make it more difficult, but not impossible," Burnett said.

He pointed out that Idaho's other federal District Court judge, B. Lynn Winmill, was nominated by Democratic President Bill Clinton in 1995, when Idaho had two other Republican senators, Dirk Kempthorne and Larry Craig.

"The process can work," Burnett said.

The good news, the professor said, is Idaho will have a net gain in personnel strength in the state's federal judiciary. It will have two full-time District Court judges and another, Lodge, who will be working with a lighter caseload once he enters senior status next summer. Lodge on Wednesday announced his plan to change his status.

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