How Not To Pick Judges

April 12, 1991

The Senate Judiciary Committee was absolutely correct yesterday to reject the nomination of Judge Kenneth L. Ryskamp to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. As a U.S. district court judge in Miami, Judge Ryskamp demonstrated at best a too-narrow view of the protection the law and the Constitution give to minorities and women. At worst his record demonstrated prejudice elevated above legal thinking. In either event, he was overruled by the court of appeals on enough occasions for a disturbing pattern to emerge.

In addition to the judicial record, there was evidence of personal insensitivity that would disqualify for a judgeship even the greatest of legal minds. After he became a judge, Mr. Ryskamp continued membership in a Coral Gables country club which "notoriously" discriminated against blacks and Jews, and he was quoted as using derogatory language in public about Cuban-Americans.

Membership by judges or would-be judges in discriminatory clubs has been frowned on for years. The American Bar Association's Model Code of Judicial Conduct specifically forbids it. The Judiciary Committee has an obligation to reject all such nominees in every district and circuit.

How judges are chosen is an important part of the environment necessary to give the public faith in non-discriminatory, non-political justice. The Ryskamp nomination is a textbook example of how not to do it. Republican Sen. Connie Mack established a non-partisan screening panel. It recommended three respected judges. (It interviewed Judge Ryskamp, but found him less qualified than those three.) So far, so good. The Bush-Thornburgh Justice Department, for reasons not clear, ignored this list and sent Judge Ryskamp's name to the Senate, where it has now met the fate it deserved.

We trust the administration has learned a lesson, and will not repeat such a performance. We certainly hope that choices for the two vacancies on the U.S. District Court for Maryland and for the four vacancies on the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit will be checked for Ryskamp-type liabilities before being nominated and subjected to inevitable -- and deserved -- rejection when found to be similarly flawed.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.