- The Washington Times - Friday, March 23, 2001

Huzzah for George W. Bush. Hook 'em Horns, Hail to the Redskins, Wooooo Pig Soooooie and cheer, cheer for old Notre Dame.

The president yesterday told the lawyers to drop dead, or at least get lost, and the rest of us should spend the day cheering.

White House Counsel Al Gonzales, on instructions from the president, officially notified Martha Barnett, president of the American Bar Association, that the White House would no longer send the lawyers advance word on names under consideration for judicial appointments to give them an opportunity to dig up dirt.

President Eisenhower first asked the bar association to review presidential choices and since then we got the likes of Earl Warren and Thurgood Marshall. Naturally the lawyers are squawking, but unless you're a lawyer with axes to grind it's difficult to argue with the reasons set out by Mr. Gonzales.

"The question is whether the ABA should play a unique, quasi-official role and then have its voice heard before and above all others," he wrote. "We do not think that kind of preferential arrangement is either appropriate or fair."

Neither hairdressers nor psychiatrists nor morticians get such a voice; neither preachers, Volkswagen mechanics nor Sons of Confederate Veterans. Why should lawyers?

The Bush administration was careful to stay away from the argument that the president listened to conservatives and agreed to pay back the American Bar Association for borking the Bork nomination to the Supreme Court.

"I can't speak for those who might harbor that view," Mr. Gonzales says. "This is based purely on the principle that it's inappropriate and unfair to give preferential treatment to any single group." Perhaps. In any event the White House ought to be perfectly capable of making a "full vetting" of judicial prospects, and Mr. Gonzales says the White House won't substitute any other outside group, liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat, to do its work.

"It would be particularly inappropriate, in our view, to grant a preferential, quasi-official role to a group, such as the ABA, that takes public positions on divisive political, legal and social issues that come before the courts," he told Mzz Barnett. The bar association insists that the research committee is "isolated" from partisan considerations, and Phillip Anderson of Little Rock, the immediate past president of the association (all roads still lead back to Arkansas), insists that the auditors consider only integrity, professional competence and judicial temperament. The association's screening, he says, has given the United States "a federal bench that is the envy of the world."

Indeed, it may be that this envy is what drives so much jealousy of America throughout the world, though some of us would have thought that the wretched refuse of the backwaters of the globe would have envied us for Buicks, Coca-Cola, cheeseburgers, Old Navy, Jamie Lee Curtis, Elvis, Puffy Combs and Starbucks, and not necessarily for David Souter and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The Senate Judiciary Committee noted, as early as 1997, that the American Bar Association has taken inflexibly partisan positions on abortion, affirmative action, flag desecration, religious liberty, welfare reform, deportation of criminal aliens and, naturally, "product liability," since suing people is what keeps law schools open. The lawyers agree with prevailing public opinion on none of these issues. George Bushnell, who was then the president of the association, referred to the emerging Republican majority in 1995 as a collection of "reptilian bastards," which, even if accurate, hardly demonstrates the evenhanded neutrality with which the association insists it approaches the task of measuring judicial appointments.

Bill Clinton is the kind of president the bar association wants to find judicial candidates for. In 1997, five former bar association presidents rebuked Judge David Santelle for lunching with Lauch Faircloth, a senator from North Carolina, shortly before he appointed Kenneth Starr as the special prosecutor to look into the sordid pasts of the Clintons. An appeals court judge, a Democrat who had been appointed to the bench by Jimmy Carter, investigated the issue and determined that Judge Santelle had not violated "legal ethics" (no laughing, please) by going to lunch with his old friend.

The bar association can and no doubt will continue to find (or manufacture) dirt on candidates it doesn't like. It's a free country. But George W. Bush, by telling the lawyers they can talk but he doesn't have to listen, pushed them an inch or two out of the lives of the rest of us yesterday, and for that we can all be grateful.


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