Bush's Judges

December 13, 1990

Ronald Reagan named 370 federal judges. That was a record. George Bush has already named 80, has 41 old vacancies to fill -- and 85 newly created by legislation. He will probably nominate more judges in one term than anyone ever has. Despite some early indications that he would get away from the conservative litmus tests President Reagan and his Justice Department used in choosing judges, the record is clear that conservatism is still a factor. As Alliance for Justice noted in a recent report, of 23 Bush nominees to the circuit courts of appeals, 15 were Reagan appointees to the district courts.

These are important nominations, for, as Alliance for Justice's Nan Aron points out, it is at this level of the judicial structure that "ideology is most apt to influence judicial decision-making." Of course, ideology influences decision making on the Supreme Court, but far more decisions are made at the circuit level, most of which are never reviewed by the Supreme Court.

Alliance for Justice is a liberal advocacy group. Its criticism of the Bush record is not unexpected. Its harsh words for the Democratic-dominated Senate Judiciary Committee are something else. It says the committee has accelerated and thus weakened the confirmation process to the point that many nominees with unacceptable legal and/or ideological qualifications are being approved for the bench.

It cites the case of Dennis Shedd, a former aide to Sen. Strom Thurmond. He was confirmed as a district court judge only 10 days after being nominated, despite the fact he has little courtroom experience as a lawyer and was given a low professional rating by the American Bar Association.

The committee ought to be more assertive. It is the only way Democrats can influence the makeup of the federal judiciary, as long as they can't figure out how to elect a president. By the end of President's Bush present term, more than 75 percent of all federal judges will have been appointed by Republican presidents, and more than 90 percent of those judges will be Republicans.

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