New Court Pick Fits Bill

FINALLY, President Clinton has found a candidate for the Supreme Court whose credentials appear to be surprise-proof.

With solid support from key Democrats and Republicans, including GOP Senate leader Robert Dole, Federal Appeals Court Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg seems certain to be quickly confirmed as the second woman justice on the high court and the first Jewish member of the court since Justice Abe Fortas retired in 1969.

But the White House press conference June 14, at which the president announced Judge Ginsburg's nomination, could not erase the shadow of the administration's mishandling of two other prospects for the post: Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt and Federal Appeals Court Judge Stephen Breyer of Massachusetts. The two, and the public, had been led to believe that one of them would be chosen.

It is easier to justify bypassing Mr. Babbitt, since he holds a key Cabinet post that many environmentalists consider as vital a position as a seat on the Supreme Court. But Babbitt himself had made it clear that a lifetime high-court seat would be preferable.

Judge Breyer had seemed in the past few days to be the more likely choice, despite the disclosure that he had inadvertently failed to pay Social Security taxes for a domestic employee - a pitfall that resulted in the dropping of two previous Justice Department candidates. This did not seem to be an obstacle for Breyer.

The president was clearly enjoying the announcement of Ginsburg's nomination in the White House Rose Garden until near the end, when a television reporter asked him whether the treatment of Breyer and Babbitt indicated that the administration was still having coordination problems.

Mr. Clinton revealed his sensitivity to the implied criticism, saying: "I have long since given up the thought that I could disabuse some of you turning any substantive decision into anything but political process."

Even that contretemps could not negate the overall effect produced by Judge Ginsburg's account of her career and her judicial philosophy.

Assuming Ginsburg's confirmation, Clinton can take credit for achieving greater balance on the Supreme Court by adding a second woman. Ginsburg and Justice Sandra Day O'Connor should make a strong women's-rights team, despite some differences.

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