Gop Tide May Sway Clinton's Judicial Appointments

Article excerpt

PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON'S administration, which boasts an unprecedented record of appointing women and minorities to the federal bench, says it may soon shift course and steer future appointments to the right to get them through the new Republican Congress. The administration has 57 judicial openings to fill.

The first test of how cautiously the White House will tread is an upcoming set of decisions on 14 candidates whose nominations were pending before the fall elections. Those elections resulted in a Republican landslide and a congressional majority in the session that will open Wednesday.

Before resubmitting names to the GOP Senate for confirmation, Clinton's administration will check on opposition from Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, the incoming Judiciary Committee chairman, said Eleanor Dean Acheson, who handles appointments for the Justice Department.

"I don't think the Republican senators on the Judiciary Committee have it in for women and minorities," said Acheson, a former lawyer from Boston. "But we will have to pay more attention to the ideological aspects of the current climate."

While such attention could help finesse some appointments through the approval process, it also could cause Clinton's administration to back away from some previously touted nominees. That would reinforce criticisms that Clinton sometimes is more ready to compromise with the political opposition than to fight for his supporters and beliefs.

One of those awaiting resubmission is Sandra Lynch, a lawyer from Brookline, Mass. Clinton nominated her in September to fill the federal appeals court vacancy in Boston that was created by Chief Judge Stephen G. Breyer's appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court. Lynch's nomination was not considered by the Senate before the 103rd Congress ended.

Officials in Clinton's administration said they expected to renominate Lynch, a partner with the Foley, Hoag & Eliot law firm and an activist for school desegregation and Planned Parenthood. Aides to Democratic Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, who put Lynch's name forward, said they were optimistic that a Republican Senate would confirm her. If so, Lynch would become the first woman on the 1st Circuit Court, which handles cases from much of New England and Puerto Rico.

California lawyer Samuel Paz, who was nominated to fill a district court post, and Peter Edelman, appointed to the federal appeals bench in Washington, could face a tougher battle, sources said. …