Supreme Court nominee expected to be 'healer' Clinton names Ginsburg

June 15, 1993|By Carl M. Cannon | Carl M. Cannon,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- President Clinton nominated Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the Supreme Court yesterday, selecting a heroine of the women's movement who would be the first Jewish justice on the high court in 24 years.

Ending his troubled, three-month search to replace retiring Justice Byron R. White, Mr. Clinton called Judge Ginsburg, the first high court appointment by a Democratic president in almost 26 years, "a healer" and a "centrist" who will prove to be "an able force for consensus-building on the Supreme Court."

Standing beside the 60-year-old federal appeals court judge in the Rose Garden, Mr. Clinton added:

"Many admirers of her work say that she is to the women's movement what former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall was to the movement for the rights of African-Americans. I can think of no greater compliment to bestow on an American lawyer."

Judge Ginsburg, who won five of six cases she argued before the Supreme Court on behalf of women's rights before she was named to the appeal courts in Washington in 1980, hailed her nomination as another sign of "the end of the days when women -- at least half the talent pool in our society -- appear in high places only as one-at-a-time performers."

If she is confirmed by the Senate, her appointment is expected to strengthen the power of the court's centrists -- Justices

Anthony M. Kennedy, Sandra Day O'Connor and David H. Souter -- who decide many of the court's key cases.

Late last week when Boston-based federal appellate Judge Stephen G. Breyer, who also is Jewish, was presumed to be the pick, White House aides said privately that Mr. Clinton took seriously the call by some to return to the tradition of having a "Jewish seat" on the court. No Jewish justice has served since 1969, when Abe Fortas resigned.

The president went out of his way yesterday to praise the two very public also-rans, Interior Secretary Bruce E. Babbitt and Judge Breyer, saying they would make "outstanding nominees" in the future.

As recently as Friday, these two were the only candidates on the list, according to White House officials. Their treatment offended even those supportive of Judge Ginsburg's nomination and furthered the perception that Mr. Clinton's White House operation is badly flawed.

"I think we've got to get away from this process of appearing to send up trial balloons," said GOP Sen. William S. Cohen of Maine. "We cannot use people as balloons."

Women's groups and feminist politicians, however, rallied LTC immediately to support the choice of Judge Ginsburg to become only the second woman on the Supreme Court in history.

"She was my choice," said Texas Gov. Ann W. Richards, who apparently helped steer Mr. Clinton to Judge Ginsburg with a recent letter extolling her virtues. "She's perfect. Her credentials are impeccable. She seemed like a natural."

Her Roe speech criticized

The only negative rumblings came from abortion rights activists, who expressed concern about a speech Judge Ginsburg delivered in March criticizing the sweep of the 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision.

But there was little but praise for Judge Ginsburg on Capitol Hill ++ yesterday, where her approval seems a foregone conclusion.

"This nomination is going to have probably the least trouble of any nomination I've seen for the Supreme Court in recent years," predicted Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, a Democrat who serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican who also serves on the committee, added, "I suspect she'll go through" without difficulty.

Judge Ginsburg was hardly the president's first selection, however, and the tortured route the White House took to reach this destination robbed the pick of some of its luster, especially after the president lost his temper when questioned about his decision-making process.

The Rose Garden announcement, initially billed as a news conference, was attended by several dozen dignitaries and supporters, including Judge Ginsburg's husband, son and son-in-law, who were seated with Hillary Rodham Clinton in front of the president.

After the president's announcement, Judge Ginsburg thanked the president, saying she "will strive with all that I have to live up to your expectations in making this appointment." She also recited a few brief, but poignant, facts from her own life that underscored how far female attorneys have had to come.

She pointed out that when President Carter, the man who appointed her to the bench, was elected, no woman had ever served on the Supreme Court, and only one woman, Shirley Hufstedler of California, was an appellate judge.

"Today, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor graces the Supreme Court bench," she said, "and close to 25 women serve at the federal court of appeals level, two as chief judges."

Judge Ginsburg also said that in the late 1950s, her law school class included fewer than 10 women out of a class of over 500. "And . . . not a law firm in the entire city of New York bid for my employment as a lawyer when I earned my degree."

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