Today I scooped the world by reporting here...

A YEAR AGO

September 14, 1992|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

A YEAR AGO today I scooped the world by reporting here that Clarence Thomas was not black -- he was a Baby Boomer!

He is black, of course, but what I said was that he was the firsperson of his generation to reach the Supreme Court, and his age "may be his most identifying feature."

In his second term on the court, we may get a better idea of how true that was. His first term on the court did nothing to make me think of him as black rather than young. His votes and writing are more typical of the young conservatives of today than of blacks in general.

Thomas was 43 years old when he went on the Supreme CourtHe was the youngest nominee in 52 years. It is characteristic of George Bush to seek very young conservatives for the federal judiciary. His other Supreme Court nominee, David Souter, was 50 going on 51 when Bush picked him. I haven't done the arithmetic, but I would bet no president ever averaged 47 years in ages of Supreme Court picks. Watch for the next vacancy to go to someone Thomas' age or younger.

Sheldon Goldman of the University of Massachusetts has done the arithmetic on the ages of all federal judges, including Supreme Court justices. He calculated at Bush's mid-term that he had set a modern record for young judges. A fifth of his judges were under 45, far more than was true under previous presidents. The average age of all Bush nominees was 49.6 years. Ronald Reagan's average was 50 years. Jimmy Carter's was 51.9. Gerald Ford's, 52.1. Richard Nixon's, 53.8. Lyndon Johnson's, 52.2 years.

A couple or so years may not seem like much, but it's a couple of more years, on average, these judges will stay on the bench. Also, bear in mind that a 40-something judge selected under Reagan and previous presidents was not a Baby Boomer, with all the new outlook on life that that phrase implies. If Bush keeps naming a lot of 40-something judges in his second term, we will have a Baby Boomer presence that is bound to affect the judiciary.

If Bush is elected to a second term. If he is, he and Ronald Reagan will have had an influence on the federal judiciary as compelling as any two presidents in modern times. Professor Goldman estimates that at the end of a second Bush term 75-80 percent of all federal judges will be Reagan-Bush appointees. That percentage is about the same as the one that resulted from the Franklin Roosevelt-Harry Truman performance, 1933-1952.

Young judges are a cause for concern. Judges are supposed tbe wise as well as learned. Wisdom comes with age. Say what you will about Nixon, but three of the four men he put on the Supreme Court were already in their 60s, and many, many Democrats today have a warm spot in their hearts for Lewis Powell, Harry Blackmun and, even, Warren Burger. They

provided America with, among many important wise, liberal decisions, Roe vs. Wade -- decisions younger conservatives might not have produced.

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