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Ginsburg Withdraws, Citing Furor Over Use of Marijuana : Court Nominee Urges Youths to Learn From His Mistake

November 08, 1987|JAMES GERSTENZANG and KAREN TUMULTY | Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — Douglas H. Ginsburg, President Reagan's choice for the Supreme Court, withdrew his name from consideration Saturday, saying that any discussion of his views on the law and the high court had "been drowned out in the clamor" over the revelation that he smoked marijuana as a law school professor.

Ginsburg announced his decision--made under intense pressure from conservative senators--in a brief statement that expressed disdain for the uproar over his personal life but also contained a strong anti-drug message.

"The President and Mrs. Reagan deserve enormous credit for leading the fight against illegal drugs," he said in a hastily arranged one-minute visit to the White House press room. "I hope that the young people of this country, including my own daughters, will learn from my mistake and heed their message."

Reagan Praises Ginsburg

Reagan, in a written statement released by his staff, commended Ginsburg's "selflessness and clear thinking" and said he would "move promptly" to name another nominee. Administration officials said a new candidate may be chosen by midweek. However, only a few weeks remain in this year's congressional session, clearly not enough time to obtain Senate confirmation of a candidate this year, congressional aides said.

Speculation on a new nominee immediately centered on the two runners-up at the time of Ginsburg's selection 10 days ago--federal appeals court judges Anthony M. Kennedy of Sacramento and William W. Wilkins Jr. of South Carolina. "I think it's fair to say that those are the most likely . . . leading candidates," said one senior White House official.

But Kennedy faces opposition from some hard-line conservatives that cost him the nomination last time, and Wilkins has critics within the Justice Department.

Many officials expressed sympathy for Ginsburg's predicament but suggested that he made the right decision.

'Great Embarrassment'

Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III said that while he and Reagan were prepared to support Ginsburg, "it was made clear to him" that the controversy "would probably delay the (confirmation) process and would cause great embarrassment to the Administration."

Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) called Ginsburg's situation "unfortunate," and added: "I urged the President to proceed with caution and to make certain the next nominee is asked all the right questions."

The withdrawal of Ginsburg, whose conservative views made him the President's choice to take up the nomination bid lost by defeated nominee Robert H. Bork on Oct. 23, was orchestrated by Senate Republicans and Administration officials while Reagan, spending the weekend at his Camp David retreat, remained removed from the process.

After being told by Education Secretary William J. Bennett, North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms and other Reagan allies Friday night that the controversy over his marijuana use eight years ago had become an embarrassment to the President, Ginsburg called Reagan at 11:30 a.m. Saturday to tell him he wanted to step down. A senior White House official gave no indication that Reagan tried to talk him out of it.

Ginsburg, 41, was also the target of criticism for his relative lack of courtroom experience. He had been an appeals court judge for only a year and during his earlier tenure as an assistant attorney general for antitrust, he had spent less than half an hour in court. Conflict of interest questions had also arisen about his Justice Department involvement in a cable television industry case when he had stock in a cable television company.

In his statement, Ginsburg said he had been "looking forward to sharing with the American people my views about justice and about the role of the courts in our society. Unfortunately all of the attention has been focused on our personal lives and much of that on the events of many years ago."

Will Continue as Judge

He said he plans to resume his career as a District of Columbia appeals court judge. He said he hopes to serve on the Circuit Court "for many years to come and to uphold the principles of our Constitution."

Ginsburg's abdication, which came before the nomination had even been officially sent to the Senate, apparently spared the Administration yet another contentious confirmation fight but still left a deep scar on Reagan's presidency.

The stinging embarrassment of another failed nomination so soon after Bork's Senate rejection tends to reinforce an impression among his detractors that Reagan is weakened and increasingly ineffectual as he approaches the final year of his term. It also underscores sharp criticism, stemming from the Iran-Contra affair, that Reagan is not sufficiently attentive to some executive branch decisions and is susceptible to bad counsel from his advisers.

He picked Ginsburg--over the opposition of White House Chief of Staff Howard H. Baker Jr.--upon the recommendation of Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III, and after less than 20 minutes of discussion, sources have said.

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