The Gatekeepers: Federal District Courts in the Political Process

By Kevin L. Lyles | Go to book overview
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4 Presidential Agendas and Judicial
Appointments: From Kennedy Democrats to Nixon Republicans, 1960-1976


To what extent might a president's judicial appointments reflect a president's policy agenda? This is the central focus to which I now turn. Indeed, it is instructive to remember that a given president's agenda is far more than an itemized list. 1 The issues (or choices between alternatives) a given president selects and may expect his judicial appointments to support are not arbitrary policies, but serve as signals to what the president considers to be the most important issues facing his administration. 2 Presidents concentrate on issues that match their personal and political goals. 3

In addressing these matters, it is particularly useful to distinguish between a president's policy agenda and partisan agenda, 4 although both usually are interwoven and are played against the backdrop of party politics and group conflict. Essentially, insofar as it is possible to differentiate between the partisan agenda and the policy agenda, the policy agenda refers to the substantive policy goals or objectives of an administration and includes its legislative and administration program. The partisan agenda refers to the use of presidential power to shore up political support for the president and for the party.

Moreover, even though the policy agenda and the partisan agenda may be furthered at the same time, what distinguishes one from the other is the motivation behind the exercise of presidential power. For example, according to Sheldon Goldman, if the action is an attempt to "mend political fences, reward partisan supporters, provide incentives for party organizations, satisfy a constituency group within the party's coalition," and so on, the actions can "generally be considered to be partisan agenda actions." On the other hand, "if the concern is primarily to further the president's policy agenda, with partisan considerations of less concern, perhaps even to the point of the president willing to risk alienating one political ally or constituency group at the expense of another,


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The Gatekeepers: Federal District Courts in the Political Process
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