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Judge Judged Wanting

THE fight in the Senate Judiciary Committee over the nomination of Kenneth Ryskamp to a seat on the federal court of appeals in Atlanta invoked memories of the battle over Robert Bork's Supreme Court nomination in 1987. The panel defeated the Ryskamp nomination on a party-line vote, and conservatives engaged in bitter recriminations President Bush picked Ryskamp, a federal judge in Miami, for a seat on the appellate court for Florida, Georgia, and Alabama. Judiciary Committee Democrats rejected the nominee after heavy lobbying from civil-liberties and minority-rights groups reminiscent of the coalition that opposed Bork.

Ryskamp's opponents claimed he is insensitive to minorities. They cited his longtime membership in a private club said to bar blacks, Hispanics, and Jews; his rulings in civil-rights trials; and unsympathetic comments he made from the bench about black burglary suspects who were mauled by police dogs in the course of a search.

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Committee Republicans insisted that Ryskamp is a decent man and a good judge. They noted that a study purporting to show that Judge Ryskamp's rulings in civil-rights cases were reversed on appeal with uncommon frequency was discredited upon closer examination.

Perhaps Ryskamp would have made a good appellate judge; his credentials are impressive.

Nonetheless, this was a careless nomination by the White House. Judge Ryskamp's record contains elements that raise reasonable doubts and could undermine confidence in his fairness.

There are plenty of conservative jurists whom senators of both parties would confirm (of more than 70 Bush judicial appointments, this was the first the Senate rejected). The administration, which has said it wants to reach out to minorities, should have done its homework better.

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