Rehnquist Rebukes Clinton and Dole

Article excerpt

Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist reminded the nation of the authentic voice of conservatism when he spoke up last week for the principle of judicial independence, a principle that lawyers Bill Clinton and Bob Dole had trashed in pursuit of narrow political advantage.

In an address at American University here, Rehnquist admonished the presidential rivals - without mentioning them by name - that threats from political officials to judges whose rulings have given offense endanger one of the fundamental safeguards of liberty in the Constitution.

The rebuke should not have been necessary, except that Dole, a one-time prosecutor, and Clinton, a one-time state attorney general and law professor, had made or sanctioned cheap-shot attacks on a judge they d eemed to be insufficiently zealous about the fight on crime and drugs. The judge, Harold Baer Jr., a Clinton appointee to the Manhattan federal District Court, created a controversy by ruling against the admissibility as evidence of 80 pounds of cocaine and heroin found in the car of an alleged drug courier. Baer held that the evidence was found in an illegal search and seizure and also barred the woman's subsequent confession from the trial. Criticism from local officials was taken up by congressional Republicans, with both Dole and House Speaker Newt Gingrich suggesting that Baer should be impeached. When White House press secretary Mike McCurry was asked about the furor, he said Clinton was so bothered by the ruling he might ask for Baer's resignation. While the drumfire of criticism continued, Baer decided to reconsider the evidentiary decision and on April 1, after hearing more testimony from police and the defendant's lawyers, ruled that the drugs and the confession could be used by the prosecution. But before Baer saw the light, questions were raised by other judges and even by the New York prosecutor about the implications of this bipartisan slugging of a judge. Jon O. Newman, chief judge of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and three of his predecessors were the first to speak out. "The recent attacks on a trial judge of our Circuit have gone too far," they said in a March 30 statement. …