Judges Bazelon and Gesell

February 27, 1993

David Bazelon and Gerhard Gesell died recently, thinning further the ranks of early New Dealers. The former was the federal appellate court judge best known for establishing a new legal definition of insanity for use in criminal trials. The latter was probably best known for presiding over the Oliver North trial, but he also made national headlines for stopping the government from pre-publication censorship of the "Pentagon papers."

Both men's careers had far greater influence on the law and tTC society than thumbnail sketches can convey. These careers were reminders of the importance of federal judgeships. (Lower court judges make many more decisions affecting many more lives than do Supreme Court justices.)

Judge Bazelon, who began his career in President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Justice Department in 1935, was appointed to the Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia by Harry Truman in 1949. He served there through the Republican presidencies of Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan.

Judge Gesell, whose career began on FDR's new Securities and Exchange Commission in 1935, was named to the District Court for the District of Columbia by Lyndon Johnson in 1967. He served there through the Republican presidencies of Nixon, Ford, Reagan and George Bush.

Both judges remained steadfast liberals, in the fashion of their nominators. Judges are a former president's best and longest lasting revenge.

Many Bush judges will play Bazelon and Gesell to Bill Clinton and future Democratic presidents. But not as many as he would have liked and not as many as Mr. Clinton will appoint. President Bush named 185 judges. There are 100 vacancies on the federal bench he would have been able to fill had he been re-elected. Instead, President Clinton will fill those and some 150 more vacancies in the next four years. You can be sure there will be more women, Hispanics, African-Americans, liberals and, of course, many more Democrats than a Bush second term would have produced.

President Clinton has not started nominating judges yet. He can't, really, until he has an attorney general in place to oversee the selection process (unless Hillary Clinton is planning to handle that chore). We and the judges of the District of Maryland hope he gets moving. There are three vacancies on the 10-judge court here to be filled. Other districts and circuits also need new judges soon to relieve burdens and reduce delays.

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