Supreme Court Watch Keeps Tabs on Possible Justices

Article excerpt

Over the course of this nation's 200 year-plus history, probably the group that has most made its mark on American life and liberty has been the Supreme Court of the United States.

That august body of nine justices has touched on almost every facet of American society from pornography, to civil rights, to religion in the public schools.

Their decisions are watched, studied and used to guage the temperament of American society.

Their decisions also have long lasting effects not only because they are the highest court in the land, but because they can shape the future of the country long after a president or a single administration is out of office.

Historically, the appointment of a justice to the court has been a prize that most presidents only dream of. But recently the court has come under scrutiny because many of the justices are reachingtheir "upper" years and Justice Lewis Powell, who was appointed during President Nixon's first term, has been in poor health.

Justice Thurgood Marshall, also has been mentioned as a possible retiree, and again because of ill health.

One reason these justices do not retire now, court watchers say, is because they want to wait until President Reagan is out of office, so that the court will not be driven to the far right politically.

In any case, the day is not too far away when a justice or justices will retire and new ones named to the court.

And in order to deal with that contingency, a group in New York began in February of 1985 keeping tabs on potential nominees to the Supreme Court of the United States.

Supreme Court Watch began operation as a national resource center, gathering, analyzing, and publicizing the civil rights and civil libertites records of potential nominees.

The information, when a nominee is named, will be provided to the media, to civil liberties and legal organizations, to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee and to the general public, according to an official with the organization.

The group is a project of the Nation Institute, a non-profit civil liberties group, who will identify potential nominees and prepare summaries of their legal records with help from a national network of contacts that includes civil liberties organizations, journalists, law professors and other related groups.

"Thus, before a vacancy occurs on the court, the group wll have assembled comprehensive reviews of the judicial careers of potential nominees and will make this information available to the public," said Emily Sack, spokesman for the group.

The work of the group will be guided by a distinguished board of legal scholars including Derrick Bell, dean of the University of Oregon School of Law; Kathy Bonk, director of the Womens Media Program of the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund; and Haywood Burns, director of Urban and Legal studies at the City College of New York. …