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March 6, 2015

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Heller still vetting but won’t block next Nevada judicial nominee

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Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev. talks to the media after his victory at the Palazzo in Las Vegas after midnight on Wednesday, November 7, 2012.

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Judge Elissa Cadish questions attorneys after a grand jury indicted Dr. Dipak Desai Friday, June 4, 2010.

Now that the Elissa Cadish has withdrawn her candidacy to serve as a federal judge, Sens. Harry Reid and Dean Heller expect the process of confirming President Barack Obama's nominations to the Nevada bench to go a whole lot more smoothly.

Except maybe not right away.

Heller said Tuesday that he plans to sign the blue slip — the piece of cerulean celluloid that lets a judicial nomination proceed — for Jennifer Dorsey before Congress disbands for its springtime holiday break later this month.

But while he may sign the slip, it doesn't mean he's going to support the nomination.

"If I sign the blue slip and say, 'No, I don’t support the nomination,' the chairman of the committee is still going to say 'both senators support this nomination,'" Heller said. "I’ll allow the process to go forward."

But on whether he'll actually back Dorsey as opposed to preventing her from becoming a judge as he did Cadish?

"I haven’t made that decision yet," Heller said.

Dorsey is a partner with the Las Vegas-based law firm of Kemp, Jones & Coulthard. Obama nominated her to replace Judge Larry Hicks in Reno last September, on the same day he nominated Andrew Gordon to take over Judge Kent Dawson's seat in Las Vegas.

Heller has wholeheartedly supported Gordon's nomination, and on Monday, the Senate confirmed Gordon as a judge without a single voice of dissent.

But Heller is still vetting Dorsey.

"Just normal background checks," Heller said, saying his office had more background information on Gordon than Dorsey when the president nominated them. "This isn’t abnormal, we’re going through the due process."

Although Heller may not ultimately endorse Dorsey's nomination, signaling he will not stand in the way of it is a significant step.

Heller's refusal to sign a blue slip for Cadish kept her nomination in limbo for over a year before she decided to withdraw herself from contention. Heller registered a complaint over an opinion Cadish had once written disputing the extent of the individual right to bear arms under the Second Amendment. That was before the Supreme Court settled the question in the 2008 case District of Columbia v. Heller (no relation to the Nevada senator); in the time since, Cadish has said she would uphold the Supreme Court's decision in any rulings, but Heller refused to enable her candidacy.

Obama has yet to nominate a potential judge in place of Cadish; Heller said he and Reid are currently discussing recommendations to present to the White House.

Two of the seven seats on Nevada's federal bench are currently vacant.

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