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Suit to Test Selecting of U.S. Judges

June 08, 2002|DAVID ROSENZWEIG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A conservative legal foundation filed suit Friday challenging a bipartisan procedure established by President Bush's top political operative in California and the state's two Democratic U.S. senators to select federal judicial candidates.

The United States Justice Foundation, based in Escondido, said in its lawsuit that the arrangement effectively gives the Democrats veto power over the selections and interferes with the president's constitutional powers.

Named as defendants in the U.S. District Court lawsuit were Gerald L. Parsky, a Republican attorney who headed Bush's presidential campaign in California, and Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer.

Candidates for federal judgeships are usually screened first by the home-state senator of the president's party. With Bush's election in 2000, that was not possible in California. So, acting on behalf of the White House, Parsky last year negotiated an arrangement with Feinstein and Boxer creating a bipartisan committee to screen candidates for the federal district court bench.

The Judicial Advisory Committee is made up of four subcommittees, one for each judicial district in California. Each subcommittee is composed of three Republican and three Democratic members. A judicial candidate needs four votes to be referred to the White House for consideration as a possible nominee. Parsky has a veto over all selections.

The intent was to come up with candidates acceptable to both parties, thus ensuring speedy confirmations in the nearly evenly divided Senate. The president nominates judicial candidates, and the Senate has the power to confirm them. In recent months, however, Parsky has come under fire from GOP conservatives, who have accused him of effectively yielding control of the process to Feinstein and Boxer.

In its lawsuit, the foundation accused Parsky, Feinstein and Boxer of supporting only those candidates "they find pleasing to themselves, ideologically or otherwise."

The suit, filed on behalf of Patrick Manshardt, a Los Angeles attorney, also complained that the subcommittees operate in secret in violation of the Federal Advisory Committee Act, the Government in Sunshine Act and the president's constitutional powers to select judges.

Under those laws, the suit says, the selection committees must give advance notice of their meetings and allow members of the public to attend and give input. The lawsuit seeks an injunction to bar the committees from operating in secret.

Parsky, along with aides to Feinstein and Boxer, declined to comment, saying they had not yet seen the lawsuit. But all three said the bipartisan selection process has been working well.

"It's producing good, well-qualified candidates who enjoy strong bipartisan support and can be swiftly approved by the Senate," said Howard Gantman, an aide to Feinstein. "This is a procedure that fully recognizes the role of the president in the nomination of judges and the Senate's role of advice and consent."

Because of bipartisan support, Parsky said, the Senate took just two months to approve the president's nomination of two federal district court judges in Los Angeles. He expects the White House to act soon to fill the remaining four vacancies in Los Angeles.

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