Benched: Clinton Fails to Stress Ideology in Appointing Federal Judges

Article excerpt

RONALD REAGAN and George Bush filled the federal appeals courts with luminaries of the conservative movement, people who are influential and outspoken in their view that it is not up to judges to right society's wrongs.

Bill Clinton has left their liberal counterparts in law schools, advocacy organizations and government jobs of little prominence.

It is plain after three years that Clinton has broken with a modern trend that began with Richard M. Nixon's White House and flourished under Reagan: the systematic recruitment of legal powerhouses who embrace a particular ideology.

Reagan and Bush not only appointed 70 percent of the lower federal court judges during their combined 12 years in office, but also their appointments had impact.

Among the most conspicuous of these conservative stalwarts are Reagan-appointed appeals court judges Richard A. Posner and Frank H. Easterbrook in Chicago, Alex Kozinski in Los Angeles and Ralph K. Winter Jr. in New Haven, Conn. When they speak, other judges, even Supreme Court justices, listen.

Less prominent but as conservatively driven are Laurence H. Silberman and Douglas H. Ginsburg, Reagan appointees on the appeals court for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Clinton was reluctant from the start to name firebrands to the bench, even when he could count on a Senate that was majority Democratic. But now, as the confirmation process for this term winds down, liberal-leaning court watchers are talking of a lost opportunity. …