Hispanic judge is focus of high court speculation

July 01, 1991|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- A federal appeals court judge from Sa Antonio who is considered to be a finalist for a Supreme Court nomination was in Washington over the weekend as President Bush prepared to disclose his choice to succeed retiring Justice Thurgood Marshall.

U.S. Circuit Judge Emilio M. Garza, 43, a conservative who has risen rapidly from state to federal judicial posts, remained in Washington, after being interviewed at the Justice Department Saturday, Texas sources said.

It could not be learned last night whether Judge Garza will emerge as the president's nominee, but reports circulated in Washington that Mr. Bush had made up his mind and would make an announcement soon, perhaps today.

The Justice Department refused to confirm any of the reports that Judge Garza was close to, and perhaps at, the top of the "short list" of what government sources said included the finalists for the Supreme Court seat.

Others said to be on that list were U.S. Circuit Judges Edith H. Jones, 42, of Houston, and Laurence H. Silberman, 55, and Clarence Thomas, 43, both of Washington. Judge Jones and Judge Silberman are white, Mr. Thomas is black, and Judge Garza is Hispanic.

Administration sources indicated last week that top government officials, probably including Mr. Bush, were leaning toward a minority candidate or a woman to replace Justice Marshall, who announced his retirement Thursday. Several sources have suggested that a Hispanic might emerge as the nominee.

Mr. Bush is at his vacation home in Kennebunkport, Maine, and is expected to return to Washington tomorrow. When he announces his court choice, the nominee is expected to be at the president's side.

When the president made his first nomination to the court, that of Justice David H. Souter last year, he made a point of meeting with Justice Souter before picking him. The president also met last year with Judge Jones before choosing Justice Souter.

Mr. Bush had been expected to announce his decision tomorrow, but one official said the announcement could come as early as today, before the president returns to Washington from his Maine vacation, the Associated Press reported.

In Kennebunkport, White House press secretary Marlin Fitzwater said yesterday evening that he had just spoken with the president and that "he didn't tell me anything."

However, the administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Mr. Bush has told top aides of his decision.

Mr. Bush said at midday yesterday that he was "getting close" to making up his mind.

Judge Garza, a graduate of the University of Texas Law School in 1976, practiced civil law for six years before being named to the Bexar County District Court bench in 1987. A year later, he was named a U.S. District Court judge, taking the seat vacated by William S. Sessions, who resigned to become FBI director.

Then, after a year on the District Court, Judge Garza was promoted by Mr. Bush to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Although his legal views are described as conservative by Texans who know him, he had the strong support of a liberal group, the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund, when he was named a federal circuit judge.

During his Senate confirmation hearings for the Circuit Court of Appeals, Judge Garza gave little indication of how he might view controversial issues such as abortion, affirmative action, sex discrimination and free-speech rights, the Associated Press reported.

[He told senators he would not be an "activist" judge, saying, "I think it's our responsibility to provide a level playing field . . . and apply the law. We're not elected to be legislators."

The American Bar Association rated him as "qualified."

While an attorney, Judge Garza mainly defended businesses and medical groups in cases involving defective products, lawsuits involving professional malpractice, and antitrust and fraud matters.

After graduation from Notre Dame in 1969, he served three years in the Marine Corps before going to law school.

Judge Garza is active in his church and reportedly attends Mass with frequency during his lunch hours.

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