President Reagan has now insulted the American people twice with his attempts to nominate an associate justice to the Supreme Court.
First with Judge Robert H. Bork, whom the Senate rejected for his long hostility to the basic constitutional principles of modern American society.
Then with Judge Douglas H. Ginsburg, a judicial novice with no perceptible claim to a seat on the high court and with questionable personal activities in his past.
It is up to Reagan now to apply himself seriously to the serious task at hand. A seat on the Supreme Court is not an ideological toy. A decent respect for the opinions of the American people would require that the President make a considered, responsible choice.
Judge Ginsburg's brief moment in the public spotlight ended in low comedy. Absurdly launched by Reagan as a judge who would be tough on criminals, for he had no experience in the criminal law, Ginsburg, already tottering because of questions touching his judgment if not his integrity, fell when it came out that he had smoked pot while teaching at the Harvard Law School. Fooling around with marijuana is no sin in the distinctly un-Puritan milieu of modern Cambridge, but it is a grave offense in the eyes of the latter-day pietists who urged his appointment in the first place. Having promised a nominee who would make Bork's opponents angry, the President ended up looking like a fool.
Both the liberal Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and the conservative columnist James J. Kilpatrick suggested that the malfunctioning attorney general, Edwin Meese III, be kept 100 miles away from the choosing of the next nominee. Good advice as far as it goes, but the problem is bigger than Meese alone. It is all the other right-wing ideologues who are pressing Reagan to follow that instinct in him that would rather fight and lose than compromise.
The President would do well to consider the example of President Herbert Hoover, whose misfortunes are increasingly being compared with his own. Hoover in 1932 appointed the great jurist Benjamin N. Cardozo to succeed Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. on the Supreme Court and thereby honored both the court and his own reputation.
There is no substitute for excellence, and the country deserves no less.