Nominations: a better way 1%

October 28, 1991|By Daily Gazette, Schenectady, N.Y.

NOMINATIONS to the U.S. Supreme Court understandably attract a great deal of interest.

But while public attention has been focused on the Borks and Thomases, Ronald Reagan and George Bush have named hundreds of conservatives to the lower federal courts.

And that is where most cases are decided -- of the 300,000 handled by the federal judiciary each year, only 35,000 go on to the courts of appeal, and 150 to the Supreme Court.

By all accounts, the selection process for these judgeships has become every bit as ideological as the one used for Supreme Court appointments.

Traditionally presidents have solicited suggestions from the American Bar Association and senators of their own political party, and not done much digging into legal or social philosophies.

Today there is an elaborate screening process to evaluate how judges will perform.

Justice Department staff members interview several candidates for each opening, usually in lengthy sessions, and pore over their writings and speeches.

Reagan and Bush have claimed to be interested not in the candidates' political ideas but in their judicial philosophy.

They have said they want judges who believe in judicial restraint and original intent.

But many liberals think all the talk about legal philosophy is just a cover for finding judges with the "right" political philosophy: i.e., anti-abortion, anti-affirmative action, pro-business.

Some of the appointees have been brilliant. On the other end of the spectrum have been clearly unqualified people.

There is a better way, and New York state has it: merit selection.

Gov. Mario Cuomo chooses from among a list of pre-screened candidates forwarded to him by a bipartisan nominating committee.

If Reagan and Bush had followed this model, the confirmation process wouldn't be the mess it has become today.

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