6TH U.S. CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS Senate confirms 2 Bush nominees
The circuit includes Ohio, Michigan Kentucky and Tennessee.
CINCINNATI (AP) -- Senate confirmation of two judges nominated by President Bush to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals probably will give a conservative bent to what had been a balanced court, experts say.
The court hears appeals of federal cases in Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky and Tennessee. It has been understaffed for years with six Republicans and six Democrats because of an impasse in the Senate. Michigan's senators were upset at Republicans for refusing to confirm President Clinton's nominees to the court.
A compromise this month allowed the confirmation of David McKeague, 58, a federal judge in Michigan since 1992, and Richard Griffin, 53, a judge on Michigan's Court of Appeals since 1988. Both have been criticized by liberal groups.
"Presumably, they would not have been nominated by President Bush if they did not share his judicial views," said Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, a conservative, Washington-based judicial watchdog.
But any change in the dominant philosophy of the court likely will be subtle because the 6th Circuit generally has been considered to be moderate, not liberal, Fitton said.
Marianna Bettman, a College of Law professor at the University of Cincinnati, disagrees.
Civil rights reputation
"The 6th Circuit had a reputation as one of the great civil rights courts," she said. "Those days are gone. There's no question it's become far more conservative, and will become more so."
One former judge sees the confirmation of Bush appointees to several courts across the nation as the culmination of a strategy begun by another Republican president 25 years ago.
"Ronald Reagan announced that one of the goals of his administration was to bring about a sea change in the courts, to rid the courts of activist judges," said retired Judge Nathaniel Jones, a native of Youngstown.
"Activism, in the context it was generated ... was a euphemism or code term for judges who were enforcing civil rights laws as they were intended to be enforced, to erase the stain -- the racial stain -- from our institutions."
Judge Jones, a former NAACP general counsel, said he considered himself a "forward thinking" judge, but not the 6th Circuit's most liberal member. He was appointed by President Carter, a Democrat, in 1979 and served until 1995, then continued on part-time status for seven years.
Since retiring, he has been vocal in his criticism of the process used to select judges.
"I have been most concerned over the direction the federal courts are going, which has resulted in a clear strategy to influence the way in which cases are decided," Judge Jones said.
He has no doubt which way the 6th Circuit is leaning.
"A panel might reach a liberal decision, depending on what panel you got, but if it went to en banc [or heard by the full court], that decision would be wiped out," Judge Jones said.