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Volume 70, Issue 7, Tuesday, August 31, 2004


Scales to tip in next four years

Next president has important choices to make on the bench

By Will Franklin
The Daily Cougar

President George W. Bush's judicial appointees are conservative but not extremist, according to a new study by UH political science professor Robert Carp.

Carp investigated and analyzed more than 70,000 court cases from 1,700 judges and found that the result matches expectations.

"Bush is in some ways a centrist, but his base is social conservatives," Carp said. "If there is going to be ideological screening of judges, we'd expect to find it on social issues."

Bush has appointed the most conservative group of judges on civil liberties and rights since President Lyndon B. Johnson, but the Bush judges are more liberal than the average Republican on issues of criminal justice, labor and economic regulation, Carp said.

Overall, Carp found that 36.1 percent of decisions made by Bush appointees have been liberal, compared with 35.8 percent from Ronald Reagan's appointees, 37 percent from George H.W. Bush's and 44.7 percent from Bill Clinton's.

The average percentage of decisions that could be considered liberal from Republicans is 38.1 percent, compared with 49.4 percent from Democrats.

Bush has appointed more minorities and women to the bench than any previous Republican president, but less than Clinton.

The issue of judicial appointments is sure to be a hot-button issue in this year's presidential race. Although Bush has said there is no ideological litmus test for his judicial nominees on any particular issue, Democratic candidate John Kerry said he "will only nominate Supreme Court justices with a record of respect for Roe v. Wade."

"It's a true watershed election. The impact would be long-term on issues of race, gay rights, affirmative action, and abortion," Carp said. "(It's) one of the most important elections we've ever had."

Abortion rights have moved to center stage in the judiciary since U.S. District Court Judge Richard Casey, whom Clinton appointed in 1997, ruled Thursday that the partial birth abortion ban Bush signed into law in November is unconstitutional.

Abortion rights groups claim Bush's appointments are intended to overturn the rights established in Roe and Kerry has accused the president of packing the courts with what he calls right-wing extremists.

Bush has accused Kerry of changing his position on abortion and Senate Democrats of obstructionist tactics in the judicial confirmation process.

Casey's decision is expected to be appealed to the Supreme Court, which Carp said the next president could have a great deal of influence over. He said he believes four Supreme Court justices will retire during the next term, giving whoever is elected the power to set the tone of the judiciary for years.

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