Gov. Bush's Judicial Pick Raises Brows; 'Litmus Testing' Charged in Appointment of Outspoken Christian Judge

Article excerpt

Byline: Frank J. Murray, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

An enterprising Florida prosecutor whose courtroom exploits read like television dramas has become the lightning rod since Gov. Jeb Bush appointed her a Circuit Court judge in January, thereby prompting debate about her advocacy of Christianity.

The elevation of Cheryl J. Aleman, 43, who prosecuted 100 criminal trials in 17 years, also sparked charges about the philosophical well from which Mr. Bush draws judicial candidates and how he tests their stands on issues.

The flap also was the basis for a novel accusation that Mr. Bush's general counsel, former Rep. Charles T. Canady, who helped prosecute President Clinton's impeachment trial, is relying on the little-known Ninth Amendment to probe views on abortion and contraception.

That could betray the governor's 1999 promise to the Florida Bar to rely on professional qualification rather than to use litmus tests to seek "ideologically compatible" prospects.

"I can tell you there are no litmus test questions during judicial interviews. It appears that this question may have been misunderstood or misconstrued by certain individuals," Bush aide Elizabeth Hirst said, adding that it was dropped because it "may create an unnecessary distraction."

Judge Aleman, whose appointment did not require legislative approval, did not respond to an inquiry with her law clerk, but her choice is making waves that are altering how Mr. Bush's staff handles appointments.

"It's obvious the opposition against Judge Aleman is solely because she's a Christian," said Thomas J. Shea III, of Fort Lauderdale, president of the Broward County chapter of the Christian Legal Society (CLS), the job Judge Aleman held before him.

The Miami Daily Business Review began the public flap with an article about the Feb. 8 B'nai B'rith-sponsored robing ceremony for her and two other judges.

The article quoted religious remarks she made, which included telling guests that religion is important "in every area of my life" and asking reporter Julie Kay whether she prayed.

"The story must have hit home to draw that kind of reaction," said Harris Meyer, law editor of the Review, South Florida's dominant legal newspaper, which followed the news article with commentary and responses on the letters page.

Mr. Meyer called Judge Aleman's remarks unwise and said "the lingering question is not about her open mouth, but about her open mind."

He rejected charges the judge was attacked for being Christian, calling that interpretation "either a careless reading of the story or a disingenuous one. …