Manion Was Cause Celebre in Confirmation Fight : Judge Reflects on Days of Notoriety

Associated Press

Daniel A. Manion has a job he never sought after people said nasty things about him he never imagined he would hear.

Manion was the focus of a battle over President Reagan's judicial appointments two years ago when he was named to the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.

To his critics, including prominent Democrats and civil libertarians, he was an untalented lawyer nominated only because of right-wing views.

Republicans saw the former state legislator from South Bend, Ind., as an honorable public servant under fire only because liberals wanted to block Reagan appointees.

Based in Chicago

"It became a cause celebre for both sides," Manion, 46, said of the fight for his ratification.

"The people who . . . knew me were defending me . . . for the most part," he said in a recent interview. "The people who knew me (only) by reputation, i.e. my conservative politics, were pretty much going after me."

The 7th Circuit is based in Chicago and covers Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin.

In his 1986 confirmation hearings, critics blasted Manion for his politics and more, pointing out grammatical errors in briefs from his private law practice in South Bend. They also questioned his intelligence.

Written in a Hurry

Manion said his briefs were written in a hurry and typed quickly by someone else, noting that in a small practice, "your client can't afford to have three people . . . edit something." He said he did well in the cases.

Questions about his intelligence also have failed to stick, Manion said.

"If you were to take a cross-section of all the judges in the country . . . you're going to see some really exceptional people," he said. "Then you're going to see a lot of people who are, you know, intelligent, hard-working. . . . They'd be like me, I guess."

Manion shrugs off the criticisms as politics.

"I held public office, I was a state senator," he said. "I understand politics. I understand motivations."

But the ordeal was difficult for his family.

'Said Very Nice Things'

"I think that was the toughest part," he said. "In the opposite direction, though, many local people and state people--even political adversaries--said very nice things that they probably wouldn't have said if they didn't see this as being very negative. I think that was gratifying."

Some lawyers who have appeared before him in 7th Circuit cases give him adequate to high marks for his courtroom demeanor.

"It was clear he was on top of the case," said Samuel Fifer, a Chicago lawyer who watched a junior associate argue a copyright infringement case before Manion. "He has been behaving and performing like any other judge on that court."

But another Chicago lawyer, who spoke on condition that he not be identified, criticized Manion for taking more than a year to issue an opinion on a case.

"He's just incredibly slow," the lawyer said. "I think he's responding to all the criticism of his intellectual capacity and writing ability."

Was Slow at First

It was fair to call him slow at first, Manion said, noting he was working in cramped, temporary offices in South Bend, getting used to a new routine and breaking in new clerks. Now, he said, he is keeping pace with other judges.

At the 1986 confirmation hearings, critics brought up Manion's father, who was a founder of the ultraconservative John Birch Society. In the 1970s, he had appeared on talk shows with his father, often questioning the authority of the Supreme Court on social issues.

Though he acknowledges that he is conservative, Manion said precedent, not ideology, dictates his decisions in court.

"You don't have any choice," he said. "I thought that was clear from the start."

Manion's appointment came at a time when many Democrats, including Sen. Paul Simon of Illinois, were questioning qualifications of judges appointed by Reagan.

Drop in Quality

"The quality of the nominees that President Reagan sent up under (former) Atty. Gen. Ed Meese was notably less than under the Carter Administration," said Pamela Huey, a Simon spokeswoman.

The quality of nominees in the last year seems to have improved, she said, adding that the debate over Manion may have made the Justice Department take more care in finding judges.

During the Manion debate, strong support came from fellow Hoosier and law school acquaintance Sen. Dan Quayle, now the running mate of Republican presidential nominee George Bush. Bush cast a tie-breaking vote for Manion in the Senate.

The American Bar Assn. rated Manion "qualified," but the rating was mixed. ABA spokesman Richard Collins said the association does not follow up formally once judges are seated.

Forty law school deans also signed a letter opposing Manion's confirmation.

Vietnam Veteran

It was tough criticism for the soft-spoken Indiana University law school graduate, former deputy state attorney general, one-term state senator, and the first Vietnam veteran nominated to a federal appeals court.

But that is largely past.

A sampling of his written opinions does not reflect sharp biases.

In one opinion, Manion upheld a $32,837 judgment against a strip-mining company deemed delinquent in paying fees for land reclamation.

In another case, Manion overturned a lower court ruling in favor of a police department accused of using excessive force on a woman.

The opinions appear free of grammar and spelling errors, which Manion attributes to the resources of his office.

Two Proofreaders

"Now, I have two other people proofread everything," he said.

Manion, who overcame a bout with multiple sclerosis that developed in 1979, won a local canoeing and running biathlon this summer, has a new home in South Bend and is a new father.

He takes a train the nearly 100 miles to Chicago for courtroom work and meetings about once every 10 days. He said he has no visions of moving up to the Supreme Court.

"In fact," he said, "I wouldn't have taken this job if I had to move to Chicago."

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