Republican Senate Influences Strategy on Judicial Picks Two Candidates Lose White House Support

Article excerpt

R. SAMUEL PAZ is the kind of person President Bill Clinton promised to put on the bench. A respected lawyer in Los Angeles, he was one of the first Mexican-Americans nominated for a federal judgeship in California. Paz had survived the scrutiny of the FBI and was rated qualified by the American Bar Association.

After Republicans took control of the Senate, the criticism of Paz from police groups and conservative organizations, for his longtime representation of people alleging police brutality, acquired greater weight. Late last month, Clinton withdrew his support of Paz.

The same thing happened to Judith McConnell, a Superior Court judge in San Diego whom conservatives attacked for a ruling in 1987 giving custody of a teen-ager to his recently deceased father's male lover, instead of to the boy's mother.

White House officials told Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who had recommended Paz and McConnell to district courts, that the GOP-controlled Senate was too great an obstacle for the nominations.

The administration also has increased its apprehension over liberal lawyer Peter Edelman, who had been promised a seat on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals but was never formally nominated. A deal may be struck to give the law professor, who is serving as counsel to Health and Human Services Secretary Donna E. Shalala, a trial court judgeship rather than the more influential appeals court post.

Some Democratic senators and liberal interest groups said Clinton may be backing down too easily on judges and waiving his chance to reshape a bench dominated by appointees of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush.

Administration officials responded that although Clinton does not want to waste precious political capital in fights that cannot be won, he is not capitulating.

"The nomination and confirmation of judges is a political process," White House counsel Abner J. Mikva said Friday. "If we find that objections are raised that mean (nominees) won't get hearings or that we will end up with a fight that looks like it won't go anywhere," the administration will turn to other candidates.

Mikva was a judge on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals until he took the job at the White House last year. A former Democratic House member from Illinois, Mikva had a liberal reputation when President Jimmy Carter appointed him in 1979. Conservative Imprint

Reagan and Bush continually went to the mat on judicial nominations. They incited conflict with the Senate, but they ensured a deep conservative imprint on the bench.

Even before the November elections, the White House had shunned an ideological emphasis. Clinton's stress has been on diversity. More than half of the 129 judges he has appointed to the bench are women or racial minorities.

Now some of those selections - as the cases of Paz and McConnell demonstrate - may be hedged.

"We're giving up on fights too early," contends Sen. Paul Simon, D-Ill., a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. …

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