Clinton names judge at last

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The Independent Online
AFTER a week of delay and media speculation, President Clinton last night finally named a respected Massachusetts judge to fill the Supreme Court vacancy created by the retirement of Justice Harry Blackmun writes Rupert Cornwell.

For most of the past fortnight the favourite had seemed to be the Interior Secretary, Bruce Babbitt, followed by federal judge Richard Arnold from the President's home state of Arkansas. But in the end Mr Clinton went for the third candidate on the list - Stephen Breyer, since 1990 chief judge of the US Court of Appeals based in Boston.

The 55-year-old judge Breyer's credentials are impeccable. He is one of the country's most esteemed jurists, who had worked at the Supreme Court as a rising young law clerk in the mid-1960s, His reputation is moderate-liberal, in tune with Mr Clinton's centrist approach. Not least, he was the safe candidate, guaranteed swift confirmation by the Senate Judiciary Committee, where he served as counsel in 1974-75.

As the selection process continued it became clear Mr Clinton had dropped his plan to add 'diversity' to the court by naming a third woman, a black or a Hispanic. The finalists were all white, Harvard-trained males, any one of whom would have been a handsome addition to the Court.

But for a President who has made 'studying the options' an art form, that merely made the problem harder. Never one for rapid decision-making at the best of times, Mr Clinton was tugged in three directions at once.

Given Mr Clinton's avowed desire to inject some real-life political nous into the Court, Mr Babbitt - a former Governor of Arizona and 1988 Democratic Presidential contender - appeared the ideal contender. But a liberal reputation, coupled with his contested efforts to raise grazing fees for Western ranchers, has caused problems with some Republican Senators.