Advertisement

3 Federal Judges in California Swim Against a Fervent National Tide

Law: Jurists in controversial Pledge of Allegiance and terror group rulings have long been fierce champions of the rights of individuals.

June 29, 2002|MAURA DOLAN and DAVID ROSENZWEIG | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

One is a moderate Republican appointed to the bench by President Nixon. Another is a liberal Democrat married to the director of the Southern California chapter of the ACLU. The third, who spent part of his youth in a World War II internment camp, is a Democrat who was appointed by a Republican. The three California-based federal judges are from disparate backgrounds, but all defied the national mood of patriotism and security fears in the past week with controversial rulings on the Pledge of Allegiance and terrorism. All three time and again have taken strong stands protecting individual rights over the objections of government--and indeed, the majority of individuals.

Judge Alfred T. Goodwin, a moderate Republican, and Judge Stephen R. Reinhardt, a liberal Democrat, joined together on the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Wednesday in a wildly unpopular ruling that declared the Pledge of Allegiance violates the Constitution because it contains the words "under God."

A few days earlier, Los Angeles U.S. District Judge Robert M. Takasugi, a Democrat appointed by former President Ford, ruled that the process by which the government classifies groups as terrorist in nature deprives the organizations of their constitutional rights.

The rulings come at a time when many Americans fear more terrorist attacks and feel an urge to display their patriotism with American flags on their homes, businesses and cars.

Those who know the three jurists said they were not surprised they made highly sensitive legal calls that were likely to offend. Although different in temperament and philosophy, the three judges are known for their fierce independence. Each has decades of experience on the bench.

Goodwin, 79, who was appointed to the federal bench by Nixon, wrote the Pledge of Allegiance ruling. It said the pledge violates the 1st Amendment because the words "one nation, under God," endorse religion.

The 2-1 decision was a victory for a Sacramento County atheist who objected to teacher-led recitations of the pledge at his daughter's elementary school.

The man who wrote the ruling, which set off an explosive reaction from President Bush on down, is regarded as a strong individualist who has no compunction about ruling against the government.

When observers mention he is a Republican, they stress he is an "Oregon Republican," not beholden to ideology. Before becoming a federal judge, Goodwin spent nine years on the Oregon Supreme Court.

"He is a real Westerner," said Judge Reinhardt, who, like Goodwin, is being assailed for the pledge ruling. "He is very independent, very straight, very plain-spoken, a delightful person to deal with.... You can't place him easily in any philosophy other than a straight, old-fashioned kind of approach to life."

An 'Oregon Cowboy'

Unpretentious and unassuming, Goodwin has been described as an Oregon cowboy. He has a cabin in the Oregon mountains. He rides horses and lists his hobbies as canoeing and hiking.

He is among the best-liked jurists on the 9th Circuit bench.

"He is a mild-mannered guy, a very sweet man," said UC Berkeley law professor Jesse Choper.

Among the subjects Goodwin is most passionate about is the importance of a judiciary that is independent of political pressures.

He was chief judge of the San Francisco-based 9th Circuit at a time when there was a concerted effort to divide the circuit, which covers nine states, into two separate courts.

Politicians from the Northwest led the drive because they were unhappy with many of the court's environmental rulings, including decisions Goodwin wrote or joined. Decisions by the 9th Circuit are the law, unless overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, in all nine states it covers--California, Alaska, Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.

"He weathered a lot of the attacks on the 9th Circuit as chief judge," said University of Santa Clara law professor Gerry Uelmen. "He put up a vigorous defense."

Although Goodwin fought hard to preserve the 9th Circuit, "his career has not been marked by being in the center of controversy," said Mark Perry, a Washington civil lawyer who previously clerked for the court.

In fact, Goodwin's low-key demeanor has made him a bit of a mystery, Perry said.

Reinhardt, by contrast, has always been in the spotlight--and controversial.

"As soon as we heard the news of the decision, my wife turned to me and said: 'That has got to be Reinhardt,' " Uelmen said.

Reinhardt, 71, is one of the most liberal federal judges in the nation, a jurist who rules as he sees fit even if he knows the Supreme Court will certainly overturn him.

"It is remarkable how often Judge Reinhardt appears as either the author or the second vote for so many of the 9th Circuit's controversial decisions," said Perry, who clerked for 9th Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski. "In this term alone, he authored two decisions that were reversed and joined two others that were reversed.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|