Questions about Mr. Allen

October 28, 2003

THE APPOINTMENT of Claude A. Allen to the federal appeals court for the district that covers Maryland shouldn't have gotten this far. He is a Virginia Republican, nominated to a vacancy traditionally held by a Marylander, in a district in which Marylanders are a fifth of the population. By our calculations, at least a third of the seats on the 15-member 4th U.S. Court of Appeals should represent Maryland interests. The White House has ignored those considerations and pushed ahead with its decidedly conservative choice, who has spent more of his career making public policy than lawyering.

Today, Mr. Allen, deputy secretary of the federal Department of Health and Human Services, is expected to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee for his nomination hearing. If committee members choose to ignore the geographic objections raised by their Maryland colleagues, Paul S. Sarbanes and Barbara A. Mikulski, then they will have plenty of reasons to question Mr. Allen's legal qualifications. The American Bar Association gave Mr. Allen the equivalent of a C-minus when its review panel rated him "qualified" by a "substantial majority," which means a couple of panel members found him "not qualified" for the job.

That's not surprising. Mr. Allen has never been a judge, nor has he distinguished himself in his legal career. The extent of his legal experience is four years with a private law firm and three years in the Virginia Attorney General's Office - about five years shy of the ABA's 12-year standard. Mr. Allen's short tenure as a practicing lawyer should raise serious questions for the committee, notably: Does he have the legal knowledge and practical experience to don the robe of a federal appeals court judge? Residents of Maryland, Virginia, the Carolinas and West Virginia deserve federal appellate judges who rate better than C-minus.

Then there are Mr. Allen's records as Virginia's health and human services chief and as deputy director of the federal agency. A born-again Christian and former aide to North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms, Mr. Allen has taken positions on reproductive rights, end-of-life and AIDS prevention issues that, critics charge, raise significant concerns about his ability to divorce his ideological views from his role as a judge.

The experience of Michelle P. Finn is instructive. She battled Mr. Allen and the state of Virginia over efforts to remove a feeding tube from her brain-damaged husband in contravention of state law. A court found for Mrs. Finn, but her dealings with the state tell her that Mr. Allen is more concerned with asserting his personal beliefs than upholding the law.

That is an issue Mr. Allen should address today in Washington.

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