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You Too Can Be a Judge

If you get the nod from Bush, just follow one of the right -- far right -- roads to confirmation.

May 19, 2003|Nan Aron

It pays decently, you make your mother proud and, best of all, you never have to polish up your resume again. Even if you lack the qualities you think a president would look for in a judicial nominee -- real intellect, unquestionable integrity and a career-long commitment to equal justice for all -- there are other ways to get the attention of Karl Rove and the Bush administration judge pickers. Here's how:

* Support Bob Jones University. Remember Bob Jones, the South Carolina university that once excluded African Americans and banned interracial dating? Candidate George W. Bush, bruised by his New Hampshire primary defeat, sought comfort at the school, where a spirited campaign rally let him flaunt his "Southern" credentials.

Carolyn Kuhl's aggressive persuasion convinced the Reagan administration to try to restore tax-exempt status for the university. Although her argument was too radical for the Supreme Court, which ruled against her 8 to 1, it has helped earn her a Bush nomination to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Since then, however, Bob Jones lifted its interracial dating ban after Bush's visit, succumbing to the weight of bad PR for the school and the candidate, so it may not need as much help now.

* Fight against reproductive freedom. Administration officials cry "litmus test" whenever Democrats suggest they want judges who would uphold Roe vs. Wade. Yet Bush's nominees share a remarkable consistency in their opposition to choice. Alabama Atty. Gen. William H. Pryor, a Bush nominee to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, says the day the case was decided was "the day seven members of our highest court ... ripped out the life of millions of unborn children."

Arkansas district court nominee James Leon Holmes, while supporting a constitutional amendment banning abortion, rejected a rape and incest exception as unnecessary, saying "the concern for rape victims is a red herring because conceptions from rape occur with the same frequency as snow in Miami."

Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen was accused in a judicial opinion by Alberto Gonzales, her former colleague and now Bush's own White House counsel, of engaging in "an unconscionable act of judicial activism" for her tortured readings of the state's parental notification statute in abortion cases.

* Work for a right-wing partisan. If you helped Ken Starr investigate President Clinton, step to the head of the line. You'd be joining John Bates, who now holds the gavel in district court in Washington, and 8th Circuit nominee Steve Colloton, who honed his lawyering skills investigating phony "Filegate" allegations that Clinton officials sought confidential FBI checks of GOP appointees.

Working for senators such as Strom Thurmond and Orrin Hatch is a sure-fire path to a judgeship. Thurmond staffer Terry Wooten became a judge despite claims that he leaked an FBI file to discredit Anita Hill's allegations against Clarence Thomas, and Thurmond counsel Dennis W. Shedd now sits on the 4th Circuit. Because of her lack of trial experience, Sharon Prost, former counsel to Judiciary Committee Chairman Hatch, elicited consternation when she was nominated to the federal circuit.

Don't despair, though, if you missed the scandal and Senate boats. You can always befriend presidential consigliere Karl Rove, who pulled rank on White House counsel Gonzales to get his old client Owen (who paid Rove $250,000 for consulting during her 1994 Texas Supreme Court campaign) nominated over Gonzales' choice of Deborah Hankinson. Hankinson is, not surprisingly, considered a moderate on abortion issues.

* Oppose gay rights. If other options fail, demean gays and lesbians. When campaigning for his old boss, Jesse Helms, 4th Circuit nominee Claude Allen said Helms' opponent had links "with the queers." Bush judicial nominee Pryor warned that if the Supreme Court recognized a right to privacy for gay sex, it would have to do the same for necrophilia, bestiality, child pornography and even pedophilia.

A final note on "confirmation conversions." Although you might be tempted at your Judiciary Committee hearing to express regret for your past conduct, to plead youthful indiscretion or to blame clients for outlandish arguments you made on their behalf, don't bother. Committee Republicans will still vote for you, even as they express "concern" about your behavior. The hard part is getting picked by the president in the first place.

So study the resumes of some of the 124 Bush judges now on the bench. Or just follow one of these four options.

Nan Aron is president of the Alliance for Justice, a national coalition of public-interest organizations.

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