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Dems' new Senate leader criticizes Justice Thomas

Frist vows GOP to pursue options to overcome filibusters

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Incoming Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid on Sunday had harsh words for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

When asked to comment on Thomas as a possible replacement for Chief Justice William Rehnquist, Reid told NBC's "Meet the Press": "I think that he has been an embarrassment to the Supreme Court.

"I think that his opinions are poorly written. I just don't think that he's done a good job as a Supreme Court justice."

Rehnquist announced he had thyroid cancer earlier this year, and there has been speculation about a possible replacement should he retire.

Kathy Arberg, a spokeswoman for the Supreme Court, said Thomas' policy is not to comment on such matters.

But the Nevada Democrat said that he could support Thomas' fellow conservative, Justice Antonin Scalia, if he were nominated.

"I cannot dispute the fact, as I have said, that this is one smart guy," Reid said of Scalia. "And I disagree with many of the results that he arrives at, but his reasons for arriving at those results are very hard to dispute."

Citing a hunting trip Scalia took with Dick Cheney before hearing a case involving the commission the vice president set up to work on an energy bill, Reid said the justice has some ethics problems.

"So we have to get over this," he said.

Reid also dismissed Republican criticism of Democrats' use of filibusters to prevent some of President Bush's judicial nominations from reaching a floor vote.

"We have a situation where, during the four years that President Bush has been president, we have approved 207 federal judges and turned down 10," he said. "We have an obligation under the Constitution to give advice and consent to the nominations of the president of the United States."

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, on ABC's "This Week," said it was "sad" that the president's nominees, even with the support of the Republican majority in the Senate, could not get a vote.

Frist shied away from early threats to use the "nuclear option" of changing Senate rules to allow a simple majority to break a filibuster -- which requires the votes of 60 senators. He said he would go to Reid "and basically say, 'Just give us an up-or-down vote.' "

"I will pursue every option that I have," he said. "And there are several options that we have."

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