- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 2, 2000

Consider the ugliness of the accusation: The president of the United States has charged that Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are unregenerate racists who bar judicial nominees from the federal bench solely because of their skin color.

This is not a charge that Mr. Clinton has made quietly or in passing. "Several eminently qualified minority nominees have become casualties of a highly politicized political confirmation process," he told a Texas Hispanic group last fall after discoursing on hate crimes. "We can't have this kind of thing in our country." Last month, addressing the NAACP's annual convention, he said: "I do not want people denied their chance to serve because of their race." This week, speaking before a legal organization, Mr. Clinton inveighed against Senate Republicans who are "so determined to keep an African American off" the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The fact is, no matter how defamatory, frequent or increasingly hyperbolic these attacks are, few decry, or worse, seem to recognize them for the demagogic slander that they are.

Take Mr. Clinton's most recent outburst. Speaking on Sunday before a gathering of trial lawyers in Chicago, Mr. Clinton added a new bit to his race-baiting routine by invoking the name of Nelson Mandela. He began by intentionally mischaracterizing Dick Cheney's politically and philosophically grounded congressional vote against a nonbinding resolution that called for both recognizing the African National Congress with its communist ties, a Cold War foe in 1986 and releasing its leader, Mr. Mandela, from prison. It was, said the president, "an amazing vote cast by their vice presidential nominee against letting Nelson Mandela out of jail. It takes your breath away."

Not for long. Oxygen-replenished, the president continued: "I'm worried about the people now whom I've tried to put on the court of appeals who are African American and Hispanic who are being held in political jail because they can't get a hearing from this Republican Senate."

One of the worst aspects of Mr. Clinton's charges, which have been echoed and amplified by the Congressional Black Caucus, is the means of rebuttal, a kind of a racial tit for tat that forces all concerned to focus to the point of obsession on race and ethnicity, minimizing the significance, in this case, of judicial records, political activities or professional reputations. Thus has Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, Republican of Utah, pulled out a sheaf of Justice Department figures to show that during this current Congress, the Senate has indeed confirmed 59 percent of Mr. Clinton's minority nominees, 65 percent of women, and 64 percent of white men. Why, since becoming committee chairman in 1995, Mr. Hatch says, the Senate has confirmed more minority and female judges than at any time in history.

Time to rejoice? Judicial nominees, no less than individuals, should be judged not by the color of their skins but by the content of their characters not to mention their legal careers. Mr. Clinton, of course, knows this. But determined as he is to play what Mr. Hatch has called "this game of race-baiting politics," he plays by rules requiring an inflammatory, dangerous rhetoric and a willful disregard of the facts.

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