Ginsburg: Reagan tries again

PRESIDENT REAGAN, in nominating Douglas H. Ginsburg for the Supreme Court after the defeat of Robert Bork, has decided not to back off one bit in his intention to put an ideological conservative imprint on future judicial decisions. Not much is known about Mr. Ginsburg - certainly not enough to justify the extravagant things already being said about him, pro and con. He has been a federal appeals court judge for less than a year, having earned only a ``qualified'' rating from the American Bar Association for his nomination to that post, owing to limited experience. Before that he had served under Attorney General Edwin Meese III as head of the Justice Department antitrust division. At the Office of Management and Budget, he headed an effort to make government regulations more ``cost-effective'' and to ensure they were consistent with Ronald Reagan's philosophies. He taught at Harvard Law School, to no widespread distinction, his tenure status deferred a year because of hesitation over his scholarship. He is associated with a University of Chicago Law School approach to legal issues that emphasizes economic effects.

Ginsburg is said to be conservative in his personal views, but little is known about his general approach to constitutional matters, his theory of how a justice should arrive at decisions, or where he stands on the issues that sank Mr. Bork's nomination - privacy, individual liberty, and women's and minority rights.

All that is really known about Ginsburg is who supports him. His backers include such archconservatives as Attorney General Meese, Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina, and Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas. A more mainstream conservative, Appeals Court Judge Anthony M. Kennedy of Sacramento, Calif., was rejected at the last moment in favor of the 41-year-old Ginsburg.

None of this suggests a formidable set of credentials that might justify rushing the nomination through. There was no independent academic or professional clamor for this nomination, as there had been for Judge Bork's. Bork was perceived to have ``paid his dues'' as an intellectual and as a sitting judge.

This leaves Ginsburg supported, at the outset, by almost exclusively political underpinnings. Such an orientation to his nomination can only be expected to provoke caution, if not immediate opposition, on the part of the senators who must evaluate his fitness.

Certainly there should be no rush. The American Bar Association must first take up its review of Ginsburg. Televised Senate Judicial Committee hearings have to be held. His relatively few written decisions must be read. The senators, and the public, will want to size up how Ginsburg thinks as well as what he thinks.

It may be that some senators who supported Ginsburg for the appeals court will oppose him for the Supreme Court, as was the case with Bork. There is a reason for such apparent reversals: There is no appeal beyond the Supreme Court. That is where experience and ``judgment'' in the broader sense of wisdom, and not intellectual prowess or ideological credentials, are called for.

Ginsburg may hold up well under scrutiny.

The White House is already talking about the big political campaign it intends to mount in his behalf. Ultimately, however, Ginsburg will have to stand on his own before congressional and public review, much as Bork had to stand up for himself, insisting on a full Senate floor vote.

Judge Ginsburg should not be prejudged. But the burden of proof lies with his own record and testimony.

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