Senator Hits Way Judges Are Selected : Says Administration Has Made Process Bastion of Mediocrity

United Press International

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) today berated the Reagan Administration for turning the judicial selection process into an all-white male "bastion of mediocrity" and also took aim at the Senate for confirming judges with the same speed given to designating National Pickle Week.

Leahy, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the Administration "bears much of the blame" for nominating unqualified candidates for the federal bench but added that the Senate is "not adequately discharging" its duties to advise and consent.

Leahy said some of the questionable nominees submitted in recent years were proposed on "the advice of senators who should have taken more seriously their responsibility to recommend only the most exceptionally well qualified candidates."

But Leahy, who is also the chairman of a new ad hoc panel to screen nominations, said, "The Senate's shortcomings in carrying out the consent power have been even more visible."

'Cursory Consideration'

"The celebrated cases we all know about," Leahy said in a speech at Georgetown University Law Center.

"What is in a way even more disturbing is the remarkable volume of judicial nominations that have been approved after only the most cursory consideration," he said.

"The Judiciary Committee has fallen into the habit of disposing of its executive calendar of nominations with the same dispatch and superficiality that characterize its treatment of commemorative resolutions.

"National Pickle Week has been as likely to generate spirited debate as the selection of a federal district or appellate court judge with life tenure," he said.

The Vermont Democrat said nominees have gone on the federal bench in recent years "under the shadow of serious and unresolved doubts about their competence, integrity or judicial temperament."

'Labeled Us Partisans'

Leahy said Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III has attacked senators who raised doubts about candidates and "has labeled us partisans and said our only concern was ideology. The sad truth is that for many of these nominees, their only apparent qualification was their ideology."

He noted that since President Reagan came to office, only five blacks and 12 Latinos have been named to the court and only 9% of the nominees have been women.

"Something is wrong with a system that produces these results," Leahy said. "Something is wrong with a system that holds out the prospects of the federal courts as an enclave of white male exclusivity and as a bastion of mediocrity."

Leahy called the failure to nominate minorities to the courts "shameful" and said there are qualified candidates for every vacancy in the country.

"Atty. Gen. Meese complained last week that not enough of these candidates are Republican," Leahy said. "That won't fly. We are not about to apply partisan and ideological litmus tests for federal judges, and the attorney general shouldn't either."

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