Ginsburg Hearings Avoid High Political Drama

Groups find few flaws in Supreme Court nominee with wide appeal

AT about 10 a.m. today, Sen. Joseph Biden (D) of Delaware will open the Senate Judiciary Committee's confirmation hearings on Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg's nomination to the United States Supreme Court.

A wide spectrum of special-interest groups will be ready. They have conducted research into her writings, opinions, and personal life. They have released lengthy reports analyzing every facet of her legal and political philosophy. And they have suggested questions senators can use to grill her.

That's all standard procedure in the politicized climate of high court nominations since the 1987 battle over Judge Robert Bork. But unlike those hearings, or those of Justice Clarence Thomas, this nomination has not led any activist groups to unsheathe their long knives. As a result, the nomination-review process promises to be more placid than it has been for years.

"It will be a pretty quick public hearing and a pretty quick confirmation," predicts Glenn Lammi, chief counsel of the conservative Washington Legal Foundation.

That's hardly surprising given Judge Ginsburg's broad appeal. Liberals value her record as a leading advocate before the high court in the 1970s, when she became known as "the Thurgood Marshall of the women's rights movement." The right is reassured by her moderate record during the 1980s on the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals, where she decided cases narrowly and resisted joining the liberal bloc of judges appointed by President Carter.

"With Ruth Bader Ginsburg, one has to be careful not to resort to slogans or labels," says Nan Aaron, director of the liberal Alliance for Justice in Washington. "She's too methodical to make it easy for either side to engage in hyperbole. The record is not there that allows either side to speak in bold terms about her jurisprudence."

Most conservative groups, which might be expected to oppose a Clinton candidate, have not come out firing against the nomination. Even the Institute for Justice, which played a key role in defeating Lani Guinier's Justice Department nomination, has offered "tacit support" for Ginsburg, says communications director John Kramer.

On the left, there were some initial qualms about Ginsburg because she has questioned the Supreme Court's 1972 Roe v. Wade ruling, which legalized abortion. She argues that the court should have based the decision on the right to equality, not on the right to privacy, and that it should not have invalidated most state abortion laws.

But after carefully examining her views, feminist groups have been reassured. "There's no doubt about her core belief in reproductive freedom," says Helen Neuborne, executive director of the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund in New York.

While no serious opposition to Ginsburg has emerged, groups on the left and right want the Senate Judiciary Committee to use this week's hearings to elicit her views on other topics as well.

The Human Rights Campaign Fund, the nation's largest gay-rights group, is interested in finding out whether she thinks that gays have a constitutional right to privacy. It is concerned about a vote she cast on the federal appeals court to uphold the Navy's policy of discharging gay sailors.

The campaign has been in touch with Judiciary Committee members Sens. Howard Metzenbaum (D) of Ohio, Edward Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts, and Paul Simon (D) of Illinois, asking them to "elicit Ginsburg's views on gay issues during the hearing," says the group's spokesman, Gregory King.

On the other side of the spectrum, the Judicial Selection Monitoring Project has been pressing GOP members of the Senate committee to grill Ginsburg about issues of concern to them. "We'd like to know her views on the death penalty, where she finds the right to abortion in the Constitution, how she feels about criminal-defendants' rights," says Marianne Lombardi, the deputy director of the project, which was set up last year by the Free Congress Foundation in Washington.

Above all, Ms. Lombardi says, conservatives want to know how she views a high court judge's role. Ginsburg has written that, as an appellate judge, she feels bound by Supreme Court precedents. But conservatives are concerned that once she gets on to the High Court, she will become a liberal activist.

Lombardi is not optimistic that GOP committee members will press her on this point.

"We've had some problems getting Republican senators to ask tough questions in previous hearings," she says, expressing disappointment with the treatment Sen. Orrin Hatch (R) of Utah, a senior member of the committee, has given to other nominees, such as Assistant Attorney General Webster Hubbell. "Hatch is up for reelection and feels threatened."

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