Last week confirmed, 62-35, Judge H. Lee...

THE SENATE

October 10, 1994|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

THE SENATE last week confirmed, 62-35, Judge H. Lee ("Stinky") Sarokin's promotion from a U.S. District Court judgeship in New Jersey to the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

The latter's the court that in 1992 removed Sarokin from a trial because he lacked impartiality. It's also the court that over-ruled Judge Sarokin for one of the stupidest opinions ever written by a judge.

In 1991 he said a town library couldn't enforce its "shhhh!," etc. rules against the intimidating stares, loud comments and

extraordinary lack of personal hygiene of a bum who was harassing patrons. The judge said smelling bad is protected by the First Amendment. Besides, it can't be defined. "One person's nauseating body odor is another person's ambrosia," he opined.

In one way Sarokin is an unsurprising Clinton choice. He went to Dartmouth College and Harvard Law School. According to a study by Sheldon Goldman and Matthew D. Saranson in the September-October issue of Judicature, a higher percentage of Clinton nominees are Ivy Leaguers than in the case of his immediate predecessors: 18.2 percent of Clinton judges went to undergraduate Ivy League schools, compared to 13.5 percent of Bush's and 16.3 percent of Reagan's. As for Ivy League law schools, it's 26.1 percent (Clinton), 17.3 percent (Bush) and 14.4 percent (Reagan).

In picking judges, Democrat Clinton turned to lawyers from small firms (8 percent) more often than Bush (3.8 percent) -- but not than Reagan (8.5 percent). Democratic judicial nominees are also less affluent than Republicans, right? Yes and no. A larger percentage (15.9) of Clinton judges had a net worth of under $200,000 than did Bush's (9.2 percent), but not than Reagan's (17.1 percent).

Where the differences really show up are in what Goldman-Saranson called "nontraditional" appointees. "The Clinton administration is in the process of implementing a revolutionary change in the composition of the federal bench," they write. "More than three-fifths of all appointees through July 1, 1994, have been women and minorities." The federal judiciary was slightly under one fifth women and minorities in 1992.

Many Republicans and conservatives criticize this affirmative action on the grounds that "quality" suffers.

Sorry, white boys, but according to the Standing Committee on Federal Judiciary of the American Bar Association, 65.9 percent of Clinton's appointees as of mid-'94 were rated "extremely well qualified" or "well qualified." Only 58.9 percent of Bush's judges were. Only 55.2 percent of Reagan's were.

One thing that surprised me about Baby Boomer Clinton's appointees is their average age at time of appointment: 49.4 years, compared to Bush's judges' 48.2 years, and Reagan's judges' 49.0 years. At the most notable level: Bush's Supreme Court additions averaged 47 years of age, Reagan's 51 years and Clinton's 58 years.

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