- The Washington Times - Monday, June 11, 2001

The Bush administration is considering naming a black jurist to the same judicial seat that was the center of a bitter racial dispute in the Senate two years ago.

St. Louis Circuit Judge Henry Autrey is being examined for a federal judgeship in Missouri´s Eastern District, the same seat Republicans denied to Judge Ronnie White on Oct 5, 1999, by a 54-45 vote.

Sen. Christopher S. Bond, Missouri Republican, has asked President Bush to nominate Judge Autrey based on his "sharp legal mind and solid record of experience."

"His fairness and unshakable commitment to justice and the law have attracted strong backing from law enforcement, fellow judges and attorneys who have practiced in his court," Mr. Bond said.

Republicans said Judge White was unfit for the position, partly because he opposed the death penalty.

President Clinton said his nominee was rejected because of his race. Mr. Clinton said the vote provided "strong evidence for those who believe the Senate rates minority and women judicial nominees unequally."

Judge White´s nomination was spiked by Sen. John Ashcroft, Missouri Republican, who said Judge White´s record was "pro-criminal." When Mr. Ashcroft was nominated as attorney general, Democrats and civil rights activists held up the White nomination derailment as proof Mr. Ashcroft was a racist and unfit to be the nation´s top law-enforcement officer.

Ironically, the man who stands to inherit the Missouri judgeship was appointed as an associate circuit judge in 1986 by Mr. Ashcroft, who was governor at the time.

Judge Autrey was elevated to the circuit court in 1997 by Gov. Mel Carnahan, Mr. Ashcroft´s Democratic opponent in last year´s Senate race.

Mr. Carnahan was killed in a plane crash during the campaign but captured the majority of votes to defeat Mr. Ashcroft. His wife, Jean Carnahan, was appointed to the seat.

Judge White described Judge Autrey as a "smart and hard-working jurist," and wished him luck.

"He is about to embark upon what can sometimes be an arduous and difficult process," Judge White said in a statement.

Political observers say bipartisan past appointments for Judge Autrey will make it difficult for Democrats now in control of the Senate to block the nomination.

"If President Bush nominates Autrey, this will be a litmus test for Democrats on the Judiciary Committee as to whether they want highly qualified minorities on the federal bench or just liberals," said Mark Levin, president of the Landmark Legal Foundation.

Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee have stated publicly they will oppose all conservative judicial nominations by Mr. Bush. Since taking control of the Senate, however, Democrats have softened their rhetoric and say all nominees will be judged on their qualifications rather than ideology.

A spokesman for Mr. Bond said that, if nominated, Judge Autrey´s confirmation process should proceed smoothly.

"The feeling from the state is that he is a good pick, and so far the reception has been quite favorable on both sides of the aisle," said spokesman Ernie Blazar.

Judge Autrey has presided over several high-profile cases, including the trial of "South-side rapist" Dennis Rabbitt. Rabbitt pleaded guilty last year to 48 crimes related to sexual assault on 14 women between 1988 and 1997. Judge Autrey sentenced him to five consecutive life terms in prison.

Judge Autrey´s court also handled the trial of Robert Dodson, a St. Louis police officer who earlier this year was found not guilty of second-degree murder in the death of a burglary suspect.

Republicans familiar with Judge Autrey say he has no outward political leanings, and a search of political contributions shows Judge Autrey has made none since 1996, the longest search allowable.

"The bottom line is, the American people want judges who do not have a political agenda, but who are loyal to the language and the meaning of the Constitution it doesn´t matter what color they are," Mr. Levin said.

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