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Clinton Picks Moderate Judge Ruth Ginsburg for High Court : Judiciary: President calls the former women's rights activist a healer and consensus builder. Her nomination is expected to win easy Senate approval.

June 15, 1993|PAUL RICHTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — In a surprise ending to a tortuous three-month search, President Clinton on Monday nominated Ruth Bader Ginsburg, an appeals court judge and former women's rights activist, as a Supreme Court justice, making her the first appointment to the high court by a Democratic administration in 26 years.

Ginsburg, 60, who serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, was hailed by Clinton in a Rose Garden ceremony. He said that she is a moderate who has "proven herself to be a healer" and consensus builder and who has put her convictions into deeds during a long career as a law professor, advocate and judge.

Clinton, who appeared momentarily moved to tears by Ginsburg's brief acceptance remarks, said that in her efforts on behalf of women's rights, Ginsburg "has compiled an historic record of achievement in the finest traditions of American law and citizenship."

She is known as a cautious interpreter of the law and her selection is expected to add weight to the ascendant center of the court, which includes Justices Sandra Day O'Connor, Anthony M. Kennedy and David H. Souter. Replacing retiring Justice Byron R. White, she will be the second woman on the court and the first Jewish member to hold a seat since Abe Fortas resigned in 1969.

Her nomination is expected to win easy approval in the Senate and most lawmakers greeted her selection with praise or cautious promises to read her record closely.

Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) praised her as "a good choice," while Sen. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, the ranking GOP member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will act first on her nomination, said that she would make "a very excellent justice."

While some conservative groups gave her at least partial endorsement, liberal and abortion rights groups expressed certain reservations about her views on privacy rights, labor law and even her ability to forge consensus.

Ginsburg, who was asked to take the job Sunday night during an 11:30 p.m. phone call from Clinton, edged out federal appeals Judge Stephen G. Breyer. Her selection came slightly more than a day after disclosures that Breyer had failed to pay Social Security taxes for a retired part-time household worker. The selection ended a search that involved 75 outside lawyers and and the review of 42 candidates, including politicians, judges, practicing lawyers and academics.

But if Ginsburg's confirmation seems assured, the search has not been without political cost for the President. As candidates have won favor, then lost it almost as quickly, Clinton has been criticized as indecisive or unwilling to stand behind a candidate who might meet with resistance.

One week ago, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt's nomination seemed imminent; then on Friday Breyer was summoned to lunch with Clinton, still nursing a punctured lung suffered in a bicycle accident. Aides asserted Monday that the President's lengthy deliberations--White resigned three months ago--were attributable only to his wish to make no mistake on what would be a highly visible choice. But Clinton's sensitivities seemed to be showing when, after the announcement, he responded angrily to a reporter who questioned what had been characterized as the "zig-zag quality" of the search.

Flushed and glaring, Clinton said: "I have long since given up on the thought that I could disabuse some of you of turning any substantive decision into anything but political process."

How the reporter could even ask such a question after the judge's impressive remarks "is beyond me," added Clinton, who then cut off an announced press conference after the single query.

Moments before, during Ginsburg's remarks, the President brushed away tears when his nominee spoke about how women have struggled to win appointments to the federal bench. She quoted an inscription in her daughter's 1973 high school yearbook, which said that Jane Ginsburg's ambition was "to see her mother appointed to the Supreme Court." The next line read, "If necessary, Jane will appoint her."

The judge closed her remarks with a touching tribute to her late mother. "I pray that I may be all that she would have been had she lived in an age when women could aspire and achieve and daughters are cherished as much as sons."

Clinton was said to have sought a moderate who would move slightly to the left a court that often splits, 5 to 4, on contentious issues. He also apparently sought a candidate who would not engender controversy that would cost him political capital in a summer when he is trying to enact his economic program and other parts of his legislative agenda.

Ginsburg, born in Brooklyn, was appointed to the appeals court in 1980 by then-President Jimmy Carter, after serving nine years as a constitutional law and procedures professor at Columbia University. In the years before her appointment, she won a series of Supreme Court cases that sought to end discrimination against women, making a name for herself as a legal pioneer.

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