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Ginsburg Admits Smoking Marijuana in '60s and '70s

November 06, 1987|DAVID LAUTER and MELISSA HEALY | Times Staff Writers

The most common reaction in the Senate, however--and perhaps the one that tells best the damage the revelations could cause the nominee--was laughter, as some senators joked about the predicament of a conservative President who has crusaded against drugs being in the position of defending a Supreme Court nominee who admits having used them.

Lawmakers' Quips

Quipped Democrat John Breaux of Louisiana: "He's starting to sound like one of our candidates." Other senators joked that the announcement gave "new meaning to the term 'high court.' "

A senior White House official who refused to be identified admitted that "we've got a developing problem on life-style issues" that could harm the nomination.

Besides the marijuana use and other previously reported matters, Ginsburg's mother-in-law, Hallee Morgan of Tenafly, N.J., confirmed Thursday that Ginsburg and her daughter, Dr. Hallee Morgan, lived together at Ginsburg's home in Cambridge before their marriage.

"The only comment I have is that there are very few young people who haven't tried that at one time or another," the elder Morgan said.

Ginsburg's Divorce

Ginsburg and his first wife split up in 1975, and Ginsburg filed for a formal separation on Oct. 26, 1978. The separations became final in May, 1979, and Morgan moved in with Ginsburg shortly thereafter, according to friends and family. At the time she was completing her medical training at Boston's Beth Israel hospital.

Ginsburg and his first wife, Claudia de Secundy, were divorced in October, 1980. He and Morgan were married in the spring of 1981.

The issue of Ginsburg's life style--as well as issues previously raised about his possible violations of government conflict-of-interest rules in connection with a cable television case--also call into question the thoroughness of the review that White House officials made of Ginsburg's past before they nominated him.

A White House official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said "there was no indication" in a preliminary FBI report that Ginsburg had used drugs. This preliminary report was made after Ginsburg was named; officials said no FBI check was made before his nomination, apparently because he had been the subject of an FBI inquiry about a year ago when he was nominated for the federal Circuit Court of Appeals.

'It Did Not Surface'

"Judge Ginsburg was asked the standard question, as all appointees are asked, if there was anything else in their background, but it did not surface," the official said.

But, asked whether Ginsburg had been asked specifically during his pre-nomination interviews with White House officials if he had used drugs, the official said: "This was not discussed."

Earlier this week, Justice Department officials appeared to be caught unawares by the conflict-of-interest issue, which involves Ginsburg's work in the Justice Department on a Supreme Court case affecting the cable television industry at the same time that he owned roughly $140,000 in stock in a cable television company.

Both the stock ownership and the fact that Ginsburg had been deeply involved in the high court case were disclosed in documents Ginsburg publicly filed when he was nominated to the federal appeals court. The Associated Press reported on the potential conflict within two days of the nomination's announcement.

President Informed

As news of Ginsburg's admission of marijuana use spread through Washington, White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said Reagan had been informed of the situation by White House Chief of Staff Howard H. Baker Jr. and that the President "accepts" Ginsburg's personal statement.

In August, 1986, Reagan called for mandatory testing of government workers for drugs, including marijuana. The Administration's own drug-testing program in some cases could lead to sanctions against government workers for marijuana use.

In his statement, Ginsburg said marijuana "was the only drug I ever used. I have not used it since. It was a mistake and I regret it."

Reagan "stands by his nomination," Fitzwater said, adding that the President "doesn't feel that it influences his judicial qualifications."

Meese, in his statement, said: "I applaud Judge Ginsburg for his forthright statement. As he states, his action, taken during younger days, was a mistake. It certainly does not affect his qualifications to sit on the Supreme Court, and he should be confirmed expeditiously."

Staff writers James Gerstenzang, Douglas Jehl, Ronald J. Ostrow and Karen Tumulty contributed to this story.

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