U.S. judge interviewed by White House staffers High court choice may be revealed

June 11, 1993|By Paul Richter | Paul Richter,Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- White House officials met yesterday with U.S. Appeals Court Judge Stephen G. Breyer in a Boston hospital room where he is recuperating, signaling that the nearly three-month search for a Supreme Court justice may be winding down at last.

Judge Breyer, injured in a bicycling accident, is expected to be released today from Mount Auburn Hospital and may fly to Washington for a meeting with President Clinton, aides said.

The judge is believed to have recently edged ahead of Interior Secretary Bruce E. Babbitt as the president's choice to replace retiring Justice Byron R. White, and the meeting could seal the decision.

Other administration sources, however, indicated that Mr. Clinton's lengthy deliberations might not yet be over.

Some White House aides and environmental activists were expressing last-minute misgivings about whether Judge Breyer's views on certain issues were too conservative. Some aides said Clinton was considering other candidates, including Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg of the Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

Dee Dee Myers, Mr. Clinton's press secretary, said yesterday that the announcement "could come as early as tomorrow, it could come later." An announcement tomorrow, considered a possibility, would presumably allow the White House to dominate the Sunday print and broadcast news reports.

The hospital visit by White House staff members was the final step in the White House's vetting of Judge Breyer, whose name has been under consideration since Justice White announced March 19 that he would retire. Already completed is the staff's study of Secretary Babbitt's work and background.

One of Judge Breyer's advantages was that the former counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee had elicited little criticism and gotten support from both sides of the aisle -- including such diverse figures as the conservative former judge Robert F. Bork and Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, a Utah Republican, as well as Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr., a Delaware Democrat.

But some White House aides were growing anxious yesterday that conservatives' apparent efforts to steer Mr. Clinton from Mr. Babbitt to Judge Breyer might be a warning signal.

Judge Breyer, an architect of airline deregulation, has voiced reservations about some kinds of antitrust enforcement and other government actions to regulate business.

Several environmental groups also registered concern about what some saw as Judge Breyer's mixed record on environmental protection. Judge Breyer is about to publish a 112-page book, "Breaking the Vicious Cycle," which details his arguments that a substantial share of what government spends on the environmental protection is wasted.

In the book, he cites his own experience presiding over a case in which $9.3 million was spent to make a dump a safe place for children to eat small amounts of dirt. "But there were no dirt-eating children in the area," Judge Breyer wrote. "It was a swamp."

Ronald J. Tipton, vice president for government affairs at the Audubon Society, said some of Judge Breyer's writings "would obviously raise concerns about how he might decide cases based on current government regulation." At the same time, he praised Judge Breyer's legal accomplishments, and said environmentalists might agree with him in many areas.

Several environmental leaders said that while some groups might quietly share their concerns with the White House, they would probably not actively oppose Judge Breyer. That was in part, they said, because several environmental groups have already publicly opposed the selection of Mr. Babbitt. They do not want to lose Mr. Babbitt as interior secretary.

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