by James Oliphant
Peter Keisler Thursday became the latest high-ranking Justice Department official to head for the exit.
Keisler ran the department's civil division, which manages the government's litigation docket.
A largely behind-the-scenes player in first the Ronald Reagan and now the George W. Bush administrations, Keisler is known more as a skilled advocate a less an in-your-face ideologue, although he was an early member of the Federalist Society, a conservative legal organization.
He played a key role in large civil cases such as the government's massive suit against the tobacco industry and in 2005 signed off on a controversial decision to reduce the amount sought from the industry in that case from $130 billion to $10 billion.
But instead of another referendum on the chaos at the Justice Department, Keisler's departure probably means he has given up any hope of securing the D.C. appeals court seat to which President Bush appointed him in 2006. Once Democrats regained control of the Senate, Keisler's nomination went on the fast track to nowhere.
He may have to console himself with a return to his lucrative private practice in Washington. Before joining the Bush administration, Keisler was a successful partner at the Chicago firm Sidley Austin.
In the meantime, Bush hasn't surrendered on the judicial nomination front. Thursday he nominated Duncan Getchell, a Virginia lawyer, and Steve Matthews, a lawyer from South Carolina, to seats on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit. Activists on the right have criticized the White House for failing to fill several empty seats on the 4th Circuit, which has long been a conservative stronghold, fearing that a Democratic victory in the presidential race next year could tilt the court in the other direction. Getchell and Matthews join North Carolina's Robert Conrad as 4th Circuit nominees awaiting confirmation by the Senate.