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Reagan Picks Ginsburg for Court in a Surprise : Conservative Nominee, 41, Has Been an Appeals Judge 1 Year

October 30, 1987|JAMES GERSTENZANG | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — In a surprising decision, President Reagan on Thursday nominated Douglas H. Ginsburg, a 41-year-old conservative with one year of experience as a judge, to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"By selecting Judge Ginsburg, I've gone the extra mile to ensure a speedy confirmation," Reagan told an audience of conservatives in introducing his nominee at the White House. "I've been impressed by the fact that in academia, in government and on the bench, Judge Ginsburg has been enormously popular with colleagues of all political persuasions."

The President, apparently signaling the focus of the Administration's campaign to win Ginsburg's confirmation, said the judge believes that courts must take into account "not just the rights of criminals but, equally important, the rights of the victims." He added: "No one has rights when criminals are allowed to prey on society. Judge Ginsburg understands that. And that's why I am nominating him."

The new nominee, a judge on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in theDistrict of Columbia since Oct. 14, 1986, said in brief remarks: "I'm looking forward to the confirmation process and, upon confirmation, to taking a place in the court."

The choice of Ginsburg came as a surprise to many, for it had been widely believed that Reagan would nominate Judge Anthony M. Kennedy of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, a more experienced jurist who was considered much safer politically.

Last year, Ginsburg's lack of experience led the American Bar Assn. to give him the lowest of three possible passing grades when he was nominated for his current seat on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

In the Senate, which dealt Reagan a devastating political defeat only six days ago in rejecting the high court nomination of Robert H. Bork, Ginsburg's nomination was met with suspicion among Democrats, who control the chamber. While reserving judgment until more is known about the candidate, many criticized his relative lack of judicial experience.

Ginsburg, a 1973 graduate of the University of Chicago Law School who taught at Harvard University's Law School for seven years, was a senior official in the Office of Management and Budget in 1984 and 1985 and served as assistant attorney general for antitrust affairs in the Justice Department in 1985 and 1986.

Youngest in Half Century

If confirmed by the Senate, he would be the youngest justice to sit on the Supreme Court in nearly half a century and its first Jewish member since 1969.

And Ginsburg would likely give the court the conservative tilt that Reagan had also sought in his nomination of Bork to fill the vacancy created by the retirement last June of Lewis F. Powell Jr., a moderate justice whose pivotal votes decided a number of major cases.

Moreover, his youth could allow him to influence crucial court decisions well into the 21st Century. Indeed, as one senior White House official said: "One of the things that attracted the President's eye was his age, when he saw he was qualified."

Reagan called for quick action by the Senate Judiciary Committee on the nomination, hoping to avoid another prolonged battle in his fight to appoint a new justice. "It's time to put the national interest ahead of partisan political interests," the President declared.

But Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) and other senators believe that Reagan's allies in the Senate will face another tough fight in seeking Ginsburg's confirmation, though no senator immediately said he would oppose the nomination.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), one of the leaders of the anti-Bork effort, said Ginsburg is "one of the least experienced nominees ever submitted by a President to the Supreme Court" and is "an ideological clone of Judge Bork, a Judge Bork without a paper trail."

Calculated Risk

The decision to nominate a young, inexperienced judge represents a calculated risk by the Administration.

Opponents of Ginsburg quickly began questioning his relatively short list of credentials for appointment to the highest court in the land. On the other hand, his brief judicial career has produced few opinions and articles that could provide antagonists with much ammunition to attack his conservative philosophy--a key factor in the downfall of the prolific Bork.

Although Ginsburg is regarded as a conservative jurist, it was unclear how close his judicial philosophy is to that of his predecessor. Earlier this month, after it had become apparent that Bork did not have the votes to win Senate confirmation, Reagan vowed to challenge his opponents with a replacement candidate "that they'll object to just as much."

However, because of Ginsburg's limited public stands on key issues, judicial observers could not determine whether the President had made good on his promise. Some observers, for example, noted that he had served as a law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, one of the court's most liberal members.

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