Supreme Court justice says appointments becoming more political

Posted: Sunday, May 11, 2003

FAIRBANKS (AP) The appointment of judges has become increasingly political and applicants' personal views are becoming more important than their legal expertise, a panel of prominent judges led by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said Friday.

Scalia spoke during the last day of the Alaska Bar Association Convention.

The justice said he is not surprised that judicial applicants' political views have become the major consideration in whether they are confirmed by the Senate.

I've been predicting the current crisis for 20 years,'' Scalia said. I don't think it's extraordinary that members of the Senate want to ask new judges what new rights will they acknowledge.''

He said there is little that can be done to change the situation, considering the checks and balance system for federal courts is the judicial selection process.

Others on the panel included 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Andrew Kleinfeld of Fairbanks, Alaska Supreme Court Justice Robert Eastaugh, and Alaska Court of Appeals Chief Judge Robert Coats.

With Kleinfeld and Scalia, an often outspoken critic of the 9th Circuit Court, sitting at the same table, the discussion turned to proposals to reduce some of the court's jurisdiction, which includes Arizona, the West Coast, Alaska and Hawaii.

Judge Ralph Beistline, a U.S. District Court judge in Alaska who moderated Friday's panel, said there are two proposals in Congress to split the 9th Circuit into more jurisdictions.

Scalia said he would prefer Northern California and Southern California to be put in separate jurisdictions, though that process would likely prompt a political uproar. California would not be divided in either of the congressional proposals.

Scalia said decisions made by the 9th Circuit judges are reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court more often than any other jurisdiction. The problem, he said, is that the court's caseload is so large that it doesn't have time to catch faulty decisions before an appeal is made to the U.S. Supreme Court.

They cannot because of their size, catch the occasional extravagant opinion,'' he said. Other circuits do that.''

One audience member asked Scalia about his thoughts on the Patriot Act, an anti-terrorism measure passed after Sept. 11, 2001, that gave government officials broad new surveillance powers and limited the information available to the public about the government.

Scalia said the more irresponsible and violent a society becomes, the more citizens' freedoms will be restricted. He said that U.S. citizens tend to interpret the Constitution as giving them more power than the document provides.

I will enforce the constitutional minimums,'' Scalia said. But they are minimums. You've got to realize that.''

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