Clinton's 'liberal' judges Politics as usual: Republicans hope to make judicial selection an election issue.


IF REPUBLICANS are more incensed than usual over "liberal" judges, it must be an election year. You can say the same about Democrats' indignation at GOP charges that their president has packed the courts with liberal appointments.

But there's nothing wrong with this ideological back-and-forth. Appointing federal judges and Supreme Court justices is an important presidential power and one that can influence public policy long after a president has left office. The nature of a president's judicial appointments is a legitimate campaign issue.

This year, the Republicans may have a harder time of it. President Clinton's judicial appointments have, in general, been people with less ideological edge than the judges appointed by his predecessors. Liberal activists and even candidates closely associated with liberal causes have been passed over by the Clinton administration. Meanwhile, prosecutors have found that their experience with law-enforcement has given them a leg up with a White House eager to appear tough on crime. Moreover, Presidents Reagan and Bush appointed more than 70 percent of the lower federal court judges, while even by the estimates of Sen. Bob Dole, another Clinton term would give the Democratic president the chance to fill only about half of the active federal judgeships.

But that hasn't stopped the GOP from raising the issue. In a speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors last month, Senator Dole promised to appoint justices to the Supreme Court "who know how to read and respect the clear language of the Constitution as it is written and don't search to find rationalizations for their liberal agenda."

Voters can decide for themselves whether Clinton appointees like Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer are more or less ideological than Republican appointees like Justices Antonin Scalia or Clarence Thomas. But in that same speech, Senator Dole raised another issue that deserves attention -- whether the nominating process should continue to rely on the American Bar Association to evaluate the qualifications of judicial nominees.

The ABA may be a respected professional association, but it also takes positions on many issues of public policy, which at times puts it in an advocacy position. Should the ABA also be assessing the credentials of judicial candidates? Senator Dole is right on this one; there are better ways of evaluating potential judges.

Pub Date: 5/02/96

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