Waiting for the judicial nominations to begin
By Thomas L. Jipping
We're getting closer to nomination time. First, back during the campaign, George W. Bush said he would appoint judges that would interpret rather than make law. They would, he said, be "strict constructionists." That's definitely the right place to start.
Then he began stocking the White House Counsel's office with people also committed to that important principle. These are the people who will, day to day, sift through resumes and evaluate candidates recommended by Senators and others. It looks like the Department of Justice, under the leadership of Attorney General John Ashcroft, will pursue the same goal. That's the second important step.
Then President Bush removed an obstacle that in the past had increasingly tugged judicial selection in the activist direction. The American Bar Association, which has become more and more political, will no longer be able secretly to evaluate rate candidates before they are even nominated. This liberal political interest group will not be treated as a mere mortal and must participate in the process the same way as everyone else. That's step three.
Where the rubber meets the road, though, comes when the president actually sends nominees to the Senate for consideration. None of those encouraging steps will mean anything if Mr. Bush nominates people with impressive resumes but with weak principles. These are the judges who grow in office, more and more impressed with themselves and more and more consumed with what everyone - especially the liberal media - thinks of them.
So we are waiting for those nominees. Rumors abound, of course, both inside Washington and across the country. Speculation has recently centered on a pair said to be in the running for appointment to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The Ninth is the largest and most aggressively political circuit in the country. It is the most reversed circuit in the country. Unfortunately, it is one of the most influential circuits in the country. President Clinton named a string of liberal activists to that court, some of them the most controversial nominees of his presidency.
The media have reported that Republican Congressman Chris Cox and state court judge Carolyn Kuhl are prime candidates for nomination to that court. Congressman Cox, in Congress since 1988 with prior service in the White House Counsel's office, is a brilliant conservative. Judge Kuhl, with prior service in the Department of Justice, is well-known with high marks in legal and conservative circles.
Not surprisingly, radical Senator Barbara Boxer of California says Cox is outside the mainstream - the standard leftist label that really means "not like me." She whines that Republican President Bush did not consult Democratic Senator her about who should fill the vacancies. She should compare notes with the Republican Senators still waiting for that consultation call from Bill Clinton as he appointed activists to judicial positions in their states.
Expectations are getting higher all the time for President Bush's judicial nominees. He took the right position during the campaign, and has hired people able to find the kind of judges he said he would appoint. He has cleared obstacles out of the way, and at least the rumors suggest those he is considering for appeals court appointment are first-rate.
A new president appoints about half as many judges as the annual average over the last two decades, partly because they are slow in getting their selection process started. With vacancies nearing 100 and a judiciary seriously out of balance, Mr. Bush's opportunity is great and the signs are all pointing in the right direction.
Thomas L. Jipping is Vice-President for Legal Policy at the Free Congress Foundation.
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