2 Sponsored by Boxer for U.S. Judgeships Withdraw From Consideration
Federal judge nominees Samuel Paz of Los Angeles and Judith McConnell of San Diego, both of whom had drawn conservative opposition, Friday withdrew their names from consideration after being told that the White House did not want to fight the new Republican majority on their behalf.
Paz, 51, former president of the American Civil Liberties Union in Southern California, had drawn fire because of his successful work suing police departments on behalf of people alleging police brutality. The Police Officers Research Assn. of California branded him an enemy of law enforcement.
McConnell, 50, a San Diego Superior Court judge since 1980, was opposed because of her 1987 decision to give custody of a 16-year-old boy to his dead father’s male lover rather than to his mother. Some conservatives found McConnell a threat to family values.
Both nominations, made by President Clinton, had run into political trouble after editorials in the conservative Washington Times, which has gained in influence since the Republican sweep in November.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) sponsored Paz and McConnell last year, but this week informed them that the White House no longer wanted to continue pushing for their confirmation, given the fact Republicans control the U.S. Senate, which must approve federal judicial appointments.
“We were basically told that Orrin Hatch (the Utah Republican who chairs the Judiciary Committee) and the other Republicans want people on the bench who conform to their views of the world,” Paz said. “I guess this is what happens when you have a switch in the majority party.”
Boxer, in a statement, said that senior Administration officials had raised concerns about whether Paz and McConnell could win Senate approval. Boxer said she talked to top Republicans and realized that the nominations were doomed.
McConnell and Paz wrote letters to Boxer thanking her for her support and asking that their names be withdrawn. Paz, who had closed his law practice in anticipation of being confirmed, would have been one of the first Mexican Americans to serve on the federal bench in California.
McConnell, who had gained backing from Malcolm Lucas, chief justice of California, said in her letter that she felt she could have made a significant contribution to the “fair administration of justice.”
“However,” she wrote, “I recognize that the process is ultimately a political one and that a controversy has arisen over my decision in the Brian Batey custody case. It saddens me that a decision based largely on confidential evidence has created such negative press.”
McConnell’s nomination was clouded when the Washington Times ran a story on her handling of the complex case, which began when another judge awarded custody of Batey to his gay father rather than to his mother.
After the father died of AIDS, McConnell, who had been assigned to the case by the original judge, agreed to the 16-year-old boy’s request to live with his father’s male lover in Palm Springs over the mother’s bitter objections.
McConnell’s decision was based on reports assessing the mother’s parental fitness, reports that by law are confidential and she has never been able to disclose. If her nomination had gone to the Judiciary Committee, McConnell could have discussed those reports in a closed session, a point she made in her withdrawal letter.