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During winter recess, Democrats keep Congress in session to thwart Bush

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"It's yet another precedent that Democrats are setting for the new president that they might come to regret," says Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.

Some 43 federal judicial vacancies are pending, including 13 appeals court vacancies. "Historically, that's not an exceptionally high number. But for some circuits, such as the Fourth Circuit, where all the terror cases have been brought, there are five vacancies out of 15 judges," says Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond in Richmond, Va. "It used to be considered the most conservative court in the country. If a new president gets to appoint five of 15 judges, it dramatically shifts the balance on that court."

But Democrats say that the highest stakes interim appointment that is preempted by these pro forma sessions involves a key position at the Justice Department. Senate Democrats are opposing the nomination of Steven Bradbury to head the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, on the grounds that Mr. Bradbury helped draft a controversial 2002 memo on torture.

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