(AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
"Out of respect for the process, I can't comment," Limbaugh said.
But that didn't stop others, including Missouri's two U.S. senators and his father, who is also a federal judge, from praising the choice.
U.S. Sen. Kit Bond, a Republican like Limbaugh, issued an immediate endorsement of the nomination, announced by President Bush on Thursday.
"Stephen Limbaugh is a top-quality judge with the character, experience and dedication to the law we need in our courts," Bond said in a prepared statement. "I urge my colleagues to confirm him as soon as possible."
The support of home-state senators is crucial to the confirmation process, which now begins for Limbaugh. In 1999, opposition from then-U.S. Sen. John Ashcroft was a key factor scuttling the nomination of Missouri Supreme Court Judge Ronnie White to same Eastern District of Missouri federal court that Limbaugh would join if confirmed.
And Limbaugh earned warm words from U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, the Democrat elected in 2006 to the seat Ashcroft once held. "I consider Steve and [wife] Marsha friends of mine and I'm very aware of his strong qualifications for the job," McCaskill said in a statement issued through spokeswoman Adrianne Marsh.
Limbaugh is a third-generation lawyer from a prominent Cape Girardeau family. He was named to the Missouri Supreme Court in 1992 by Ashcroft after sitting as a circuit judge from 1987 to 1992.
Before his election as a judge, he was Cape Girardeau County prosecuting attorney for one term from January 1979 to December 1982 and a partner in the law firm of Limbaugh, Limbaugh, Russell & Syler PC.
Gov. Matt Blunt added his praise Friday to the choice of Limbaugh. "Through a long history of judicial service, Judge Limbaugh has proven faithful to our constitution and the rule of law," Blunt said in a prepared statement. "He understands that a judge's role is not to inject personal opinion into legal controversies, but to apply our constitution and laws as they are written."
Current Cape Girardeau County Prosecuting Attorney Morley Swingle said Limbaugh hired him as an assistant prosecutor in his last month in office. Swingle also argued several cases before Limbaugh in circuit court.
"He is a perfect example of what the public and lawyers look for in a judge," Swingle said. "He follows the law no matter which side gives it to him. If the law is on your side, you are going to win in his courtroom."
The move from the state's highest court, where the work includes "writing opinions at their leisure," to the daily fray of a trial court is an example of Limbaugh's work ethic, Swingle said.
'A legal scholar'
"He was already a sitting judge on the court when he went back to the University of Virginia and took courses and got an additional degree," Swingle said. "He really is a legal scholar."
Limbaugh earned his law degree from Southern Methodist University in 1976. The University of Virginia degree, earned in 1998, is a master of law in judicial process.
Limbaugh's father, U.S. District Judge Stephen N. Limbaugh Sr., has been on the federal bench since July 1983. He took senior status in 1996, which means he is eligible for retirement but continues to handle a full caseload.
Should Limbaugh Jr. win Senate confirmation, Limbaugh Sr. said he would be required by federal law to take full retirement.
Limbaugh Sr. said the confirmation process has changed dramatically since he went before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1983. His son "was required to submit a tremendous amount of information on the cases he tried as a lawyer, the cases he tried as a circuit judge and the cases he's handled as a Supreme Court judge," Limbaugh Sr. said. "I think the president and the Senate have a substantial knowledge of his professional background."
The process can be daunting, he said, but he didn't say it was wrong. "I think they go a little far sometimes but I think they have the right to do so."
At present, a new federal courthouse in Cape Girardeau, built at a cost of $62 million, sits unused because of problems with construction. Limbaugh Sr. said the caseload here is larger than the average caseload of federal judges in St. Louis and that assigning his son to the courthouse as the permanent sitting judge would make sense.
There are about 300 active cases from Southeast Missouri assigned to five judges who travel to Cape Girardeau regularly to conduct hearings, Limbaugh Sr. said. "A judge is desperately needed there. If we had a sitting judge there, it would free up those people."
Limbaugh Sr. said he saw no real potential conflicts in the arrangement. More than 20 years on the bench have removed him far enough from his former law firm and clients, he said.
If confirmed, Limbaugh Jr. would be the second judge from the Missouri Supreme Court with Cape Girardeau ties to be elevated to the federal bench. In 2004, Duane Benton, who called Cape Girardeau home from 1970 to 1988, won confirmation as a judge on the St. Louis-based 8th Circuit Court of Appeals.
335-6611, extension 126