The Gatekeepers: Federal District Courts in the Political Process

By Kevin L. Lyles | Go to book overview

5 Presidential Agendas and Judicial Appointments: From Carter Democrats to Reagan Republicans, 1976-1988

INTRODUCTION

In contrast to their immediate predecessors, the Carter and Reagan administrations wrought significant procedural and ideological changes in the selection, screening, and nomination of federal judges. Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Ford, as the previous chapter suggests, generally worked within the traditional norms and procedures of judicial selection, for example, the Justice Department, the ABA, senatorial courtesy, local political pressures, and so forth.

But, as we shall see, presidents Carter and Reagan both became much more directly involved in the selection and nomination processes, and this involvement brought about dramatic and significant changes in the nature and character of the federal judiciary.


JAMES EARL CARTER

Because I knew the power and importance of judges, I was determined to get the very best people possible to serve on the federal bench. I was also determined that women and minorities, whose destinies have so often depended upon the kind of justice our courts provided, should be included in those judgeships.

-- PresidentCarter speaking to the National Association of Women Judges, October 1980. 1

The election of Jimmy Carter in 1976 signaled the beginning of some of the most fundamental and historic changes in the selection, screening, and nomination of federal judges in the twentieth century. While campaigning in 1976, Carter pledged that if elected he would select all federal judges on the basis of professional competence, rather than for personal or political loyalty to him, or as a reward for assistance to his personal campaign. 2 Perhaps more importantly,

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