Judge Kennedy's reassurances

THE Senate Judiciary Committee's hearings on Anthony M. Kennedy have folded up a day ahead of schedule, for want of enough serious controversy to justify prolonging them. The California appeals court judge has evidently demonstrated that he is the kind of conservative jurist that even liberal senators can endorse for a seat on the Supreme Court of the United States.

Oddly, the most heated discussion during the hearings came when three Republican senators took an American Bar Association official to task for, in effect, insufficient support of the earlier, unsuccessful nomination of Judge Robert Bork to the high court.

Mr. Bork's inability to find an implicit right to privacy in the US Constitution was at the heart of why his nomination came undone. The reassurances Mr. Kennedy has given that he does see such a right - however amorphous and undefined - are a factor in why the committee members have acted as if his confirmation were a foregone conclusion. They are to vote next month.

In this week's hearings, Judge Kennedy expressed doubts about some of the Warren court's rulings governing criminal suspects - notably the Miranda decision. He fell well short of calling for a reversal of Miranda, however, as Attorney General Edwin Meese has done, and generally convinced the committee that he has an open mind, and, as Sen. Joseph Biden expressed it to him, no ``ideological briefs in your back pocket.''

This will be the civil libertarians' best hope that the elevation of Kennedy to the Supreme Court will not mean an eventual overturning of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision affirming privacy rights to include the right to abortion. Earlier this week, the short-handed high court split 4 to 4 on an Illinois law requiring girls under 18 seeking abortions to wait 24 hours so that their parents can be notified. The vote meant that the lower court ruling was upheld and hence the law struck down - but no precedent is set; the issue is likely to come up again.

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