WASHINGTON — Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.), accusing President Reagan and Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III of attempting to "pack" the federal courts with right-wing extremists, urged the Senate on Monday to investigate nominees more thoroughly and to rely on legal scholars and bipartisan commissions in recommending judges.
In a strongly worded Senate floor speech, which an aide said Cranston has been working on since late last year, the senator said an ideological extremist--from either side of the political spectrum--"can create a doctrinal conflict of interest fully as inappropriate as a financial conflict of interest."
Cranston delivered his speech the same week as a vote is expected on whether the Senate should reconsider the controversial nomination of Daniel A. Manion to the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago.
Test of Will for Reagan
Critics have attacked Manion for his praise of the right-wing John Birch Society and have charged that the Indiana lawyer is not qualified for the judgeship. His nomination has escalated into a test of will for Reagan and his authority in judicial nominations and has become the center of a battle over whether the Senate has an obligation to maintain ideological balance on the federal bench.
Manion was confirmed by a 48-46 vote June 26--but only after Senate Minority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) switched his vote in a parliamentary maneuver that allowed him to ask for reconsideration. Aides to senators opposing and backing Manion predicted Monday that this week's vote will be close.
In his attack on Reagan's judicial nominations, Cranston, the Senate minority whip, went beyond many of his colleagues by contending that it is proper for senators to weigh a nominee's philosophy--in addition to his qualifications--in deciding how to vote.
"A senator may want to seek a nominee's views to determine whether they are within a range of reasonableness, whether the nominee is willing to follow controlling law and seems fair-minded and sufficiently sensitive to the temper of the times," Cranston said.
He contended that the Senate Judiciary Committee's efforts to scrutinize nominees have been "inadequate."
"The problem of inadequate committee effort is compounded when a politicized Justice Department asks for and the FBI performs only perfunctory investigations of the nominee," Cranston said.
He gave no details in his speech to back up the allegation of perfunctory FBI investigations.
More Investigators Urged
Cranston said the Judiciary Committee should add more investigators to its staff and function "on a cooperative, bipartisan basis to assure thorough examination of the credentials of each nominee."
He also endorsed the establishment of bipartisan federal judicial selection commissions to screen candidates--an idea that the Reagan Administration rejected soon after taking office in 1981 by eliminating commissions former President Jimmy Carter had created by executive order.
Cranston disavowed any partisan motivation, noting that President Franklin D. Roosevelt's efforts to expand the Supreme Court to 15 members--a move designed to help New Deal legislation pass constitutional muster--was blocked by a Senate dominated by Democrats.
"Now, in a very real sense, it is the turn of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle," Cranston said.