Reagan's judicial legacy will linger long
RONALD Reagan's brand of Republicanism may pass from the White House in 1989. But it will almost certainly be entrenched in the federal judiciary for several more decades. Many political pundits tend to focus on the probable appointments of several Supreme Court justices by the conservative President in the next three years. Among others, speculation centers on federal appeals court judges Robert H. Bork, Richard A. Posner, and Antonin Scalia as candidates to fill high-court openings. All are ideological conservatives, dedicated to judicial restraint, and in tune with the President's legal philosophy.
Further, any of above would likely tip the scales on key issues -- on which the high court is now fairly evenly divided -- to come down on the side of tougher stances on criminal justice, greater protection for business and the private sector, and further ``accommodation'' of religion in the public arena. Some believe that a new conservative-bent Supreme Court might also reverse longstanding decisions on abortion and school prayer.
Of perhaps greater long-range impact on the nation's judicial direction than Supreme Court appointments will be the more than 350 trial and appellate judges President Reagan will have tapped for lower courts by the end of his second term. He has already filled 160 such posts in his first term.
Ronald Reagan will eventually get to name a majority of the lower federal judiciary in active service, says Sheldon Goldman, professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. In so doing, Professor Goldman says, Mr. Reagan will ``accomplish what only [Franklin D.] Roosevelt and [Dwight D.] Eisenhower accomplished during the last half-century.''
Goldman examines recent judicial appointments and predicts what the future may bring, in the current issue of Judicature magazine.
He compares judicial appointments of five chief executives (Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Reagan) and finds that the present Oval Office occupant leans more heavily than the others toward filling vacancies with wealthy white males, conservative Republicans, and those who agree with his judicial philosophy, rather than campaign cronies.
Recent appointees to the federal judiciary have been almost exclusively Republicans, Goldman points out. They tend to have prior experience on the bench and law-school teaching backgrounds, and they generally meet the ``quality'' standards of the American Bar Association in terms of professional credentials.
Despite the appointment of a few women to key judicial posts -- including Sandra Day O'Connor to the Supreme Court -- Reagan seems to shy away from naming women and members of minority groups to federal judgeships. President Carter nominated 29 women; Reagan has tapped 12. Carter called to the bench 28 blacks, 14 Hispanics, and 1 Asian; Reagan, in his first term, named 1 black, 7 Hispanics, and 1 Asian.
What does this add up to in terms of performance? Goldman is cautious about drawing sweeping conclusions. But an assessment by the Center for Judicial Studies finds that the overwhelming majority of Reagan judicial appointees exhibit the ``judicial restraint'' favored by Reagan. In other words, they tilt to the right, and are reluctant to broaden civil rights concepts.
Goldman says future appointments are likely to be of the same ilk. And he seems to have little doubt that the next Supreme Court nominee will be a political conservative. The key question could be whether this nominee will be more wedded to the President's personal brand of issue-oriented conservatism or to a basic right-of-center commitment that will enable him (or her) to carry out judicial duties in a detached and independent manner.
A Thursday column Chart: Reagan, Carter appointments to Courts of Appeal. Source: Judicature magazine, April-May 1985. Shirley Horn ---- Staff. REAGAN (first term) GENDER: Carter 96.8 % Male 80.4 % 3.2 % Female 19.6 %
OR RACE: 93.5 White 78.6 3.2 Black 16.1 3.2 Hispanic 3.6
Democratic 82.1 100.0 Republican 7.1
Independent 10.8 EXPERIENCE: Judicial Other 29.1 46.4 70.9% 53.6% Other