Clarence Thomas in Annapolis?

February 10, 1993

Does former Del. John S. Arnick have a Clarence Thomas problem? Is the ex-Baltimore County legislator's District Court judgeship in jeopardy because of the abusive language he used to harangue two women at a private dinner last year?

That's what the Senate Executive Nominations Committee has to decide as it parses fact from fiction, allegations from reality. Much is at stake: for Mr. Arnick, his reputation and a much-sought-after judgeship; for the legislature, its credibility.

In Maryland, the process for approving a gubernatorial appointment is woefully weak. Most nominees are given cursory review based on a brief resume, then receive kid-gloves treatment at a hearing, and are swiftly approved by both the committee and the full Senate. So when a potential Clarence Thomas situation develops -- in which a witness charges a nominee with some type of sexual abuse -- lawmakers don't know what to do.

A Takoma Park lawyer who worked for the House of Ruth testified this week that Mr. Arnick told racist jokes, used derogatory and vulgar language and harangued her and another woman at a dinner meeting where the women wanted to discuss the upcoming vote on a domestic violence bill.

At the time, Mr. Arnick was chairman of the Judiciary Committee and a pivotal force on the domestic violence bill. (He voted for it.) His crude language and denigration of women -- if true -- raise troubling questions about Mr. Arnick's temperament and fitness to serve on the bench. District Court judges must possess an even-handed disposition and extreme patience as they hear a variety of cases in which they often must dig out the facts themselves and then devise a fair verdict.

Instead of rubber-stamping this nomination, as is the usual Senate procedure, the committee has an obligation to investigate the charge. Other witnesses should be given a chance to testify. Mr. Arnick deserves to present his side of the story. Only then should the senators decide what to do.

Mr. Arnick's long legislative service is not in question here. It is his disposition and his qualifications to serve as a judge that are under challenge. If he, indeed, has a pattern of referring to minorities and women in derogatory ways, his nomination could be shaky. But that has yet to be shown. A fair and impartial hearing is essential. We expect Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller to insist that both Mr. Arnick and his accusers be given a full opportunity to present their points of view before the senators take a final vote.

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