Bush leaning to right on judicial issues

Appointments: Gregory withdrawal and downsizing of ABA's role should trouble unifiers.

March 24, 2001

FOR ALL HIS talk of bipartisanship and unifying the country, President Bush is sending signals that he is in no mood to compromise his staunch conservatism on judicial appointments.

Two examples: The administration has dropped the American Bar Association from the process of screening federal judicial candidates.

And, Mr. Bush has withdrawn former President Clinton's nomination of Judge Roger L. Gregory to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which hears lower-court appeals from Maryland and four other states.

It seems that Mr. Bush is trying to settle old scores and new ones.

The elephants haven't forgotten that the ABA gave lower scores than they expected to former Judge Robert Bork and Justice Clarence Thomas when they were vying for U.S. Supreme Court seats. To them, this was proof that the ABA is a leftist organization whose role must be diminished.

Nonsense. The ABA committee that rates federal judicial candidates for experience, wisdom and temperament is a bipartisan group. Its members can't participate in political activity.

But those facts don't seem to matter when a political agenda is at stake. That's disappointing to anyone who thought Mr. Bush would bring a fresh approach.

Moreover, there's talk that Mr. Bush will try to bring conservative groups into the screening process. To call this balance, as the administration does, is ridiculous. One organization mentioned is the Federalist Society, an unabashedly right-wing group whose board of visitors is co-chaired by Mr. Bork and Republican Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, who as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee has played an important role in keeping the 4th Circuit bench all-white.

Mr. Bush's decision to withdraw Judge Gregory's nomination was another disappointment. This was a chance for the president to extend a hand of unity by supporting a highly qualified African-American judge's appointment to the 4th Circuit. Instead, he gave the judge the back of his hand. The administration has hinted that Judge Gregory could be renominated, but that's not a sure thing.

It's not fair for the president to keep Mr. Gregory holding his breath again. But then, Republicans haven't bothered themselves with fairness when it comes to carrying out their judicial agenda.

It's just about politics -- the kind Mr. Bush had said he would avoid.

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