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Remarks to Ethnic and Minority Administration Supporters on the Supreme Court Nomination of Douglas H. Ginsburg

November 06, 1987

Thank you very much. You're forgetting my previous profession. With a hand like that for entering— [laughter] —I might just turn around and exit. [Laughter]

Well, 8 days ago I announced my intention to nominate Judge Douglas Ginsburg to the United States Supreme Court. Judge Ginsburg's qualifications were obvious: valedictorian of his class at Cornell University; a brilliant student at the University of Chicago Law School; 8 years as a professor at the Harvard Law School, where he taught and wrote about the pressing legal and policy issues of the day concerning various areas of economic regulation, such as broadcasting and banking as well as antitrust law; 3 years in high government posts, including service as Assistant Attorney General to the United States; then nomination and unanimous Senate confirmation last year to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia circuit, one of the most important and prestigious of the Federal Courts of Appeal—and all this by the age of 40.

Obviously, remarkable credentials, but in the last day or so we've learned something else about Judge Ginsburg, something that tells us about the times we live in, about the reality of youthful error, and something that will—according to how we react to this news—tell us about the kind of people we are ourselves. You know, since the Republic began, the American people and those in public life have had to deal with the issue raised by this recent news.

Many of our most prominent public servants—throughout our history and in recent times—have had to acknowledge errors they made in their youth or even more serious errors committed when they were older. And yet if that public servant showed a sincere sense of regret and a firm purpose of amendment, the American people have always answered unhesitatingly: Continue to serve us. Well, get on with your life; we understand and forgive. And we expect great things of you. In the case of Judge Ginsburg, I think the American people will be no less compassionate and no less wise. Judge Ginsburg erred in his youth. He has acknowledged it. He has expressed his regrets. So, yes, sometimes youth can have its drawbacks, but let us remember that throughout the history of our Republic it has also shown itself to great advantage.

You know, at a Cabinet meeting earlier this week, I was remarking that Judge Ginsburg will be joining the list of remarkable Supreme Court Justices nominated at a relatively early age: Chief Justice John Marshall, nominated at the age of 45; Justice John Marshall Harlen, author of the dissent in Plessy versus Ferguson that laid the basis for the landmark decision in Brown versus the Board of Education, nominated at the age of 44; Justice William O. Douglas, a judge we conservatives often disagreed with, but whose intelligence we respected, nominated at the age of 40; and Justice Byron White, one of the finest minds on the Court today and quite a backfield man also— [laughter] —nominated at the age of 44. Well, as I say, I was going through this list when Education Secretary Bennett spoke up. Leave it to Bill Bennett, the former teacher. "Mr. President," he said, "never mind these Justices who started to interpret the Constitution in their early forties. James Madison helped to write the document at the age of 36."

But I nominated Judge Ginsburg, and we're all here today not just because of his professional qualifications but, most important, there is his legal philosophy of judicial restraint. Judge Ginsburg believes—as I do and as do you, as do all those who have a proper and balanced understanding of the American system of government—that it is the role of the courts to interpret the law, not to make it. And this goes to the very root of what we Americans believe. For to the extent that judges make the law—no matter how high or fine their intentions—to that extent, we cease to be a democracy governed by the people and become governed instead by the very few. This is not what the Founders like Madison intended. To keep faith with their noble experiment in democracy, to keep faith with the generations of Americans who for two centuries have labored and sacrificed to keep this nation free, American judges must submit themselves to the Constitution and the original intent of those who founded it. Judge Ginsburg believes in keeping that faith.

Then there is a second matter. I have mentioned Judge Ginsburg's academic credentials, but there is also his dedication to the cause of justice best evidenced by his record as Assistant Attorney General. As head of the Department of Justice's Antitrust Division, Assistant Attorney General Ginsburg made criminal enforcement the Division's first priority. Under his leadership, the Antitrust Division filed criminal charges against 87 corporations and 80 individuals. And by the time I nominated Assistant Attorney General Ginsburg to the Court of Appeals, the Antitrust Division was conducting a record number of grand jury investigations of antitrust felonies.

Assistant Attorney General Ginsburg also initiated a special effort to uncover bid-rigging in connection with Federal procurement, in particular, on procurements for the Department of Defense. This effort led to more than 30 grand jury investigations into possible bid-rigging and price-fixing on contracts at military installations across the country, and in time it's certain to save the American taxpayers millions, if not billions, of dollars. The Wall Street Journal said this about Assistant Attorney General Ginsburg, and I'll quote: "When it comes to pursuing price-fixing, bid-rigging, and other blatantly criminal activities, the scholarly former law professor acts more like an aggressive, hard-nosed prosecutor, and he goes out of his way to demand stiffer jail sentences for executives convicted of such crimes."

Judge Ginsburg has thus put into actual practice his belief in the fair and firm administration of justice; in justice that respects the rights of criminals, but that respects as well the rights of victims of crime and of society itself. Dedication to the cause of justice, a brilliant mind, remarkable and extensive experience in the legal profession—in short, Judge Ginsburg can become a great member of the Court.

When I nominated Judge Ginsburg to the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit just a year ago, one Democratic Senator called Judge Ginsburg—and again I'll quote: "an openminded nominee with a sense of compassion—I think we're fortunate to have this nominee, and I would hope that we would act expeditiously to assure that he can join his colleagues on the Circuit Court." And the name of the Senator who made that statement: Edward Kennedy.

That's the type of dedication we've seen in Judge Ginsburg: a complete commitment to his profession and to those judicial principles that have guided this country for over 200 years. In its place, of course, the struggle between political parties and political points of view is important, even vital, to the health of the Nation. But the Federal judiciary is not that place.

On the contrary, the Federal judiciary must remain impartial in order to command the respect of the Nation and to ensure that we remain governed by laws properly enacted, not by the views of whatever group happens to hold temporary power. Our Founders understood and intended this from the first. In the words of Alexander Hamilton: "The complete independence of the courts of justice is essential in our Constitution." This places upon the Senate an obligation of the utmost importance. For in confirming a nominee to a seat on the Supreme Court, the Senate must set politics aside, apprising a nominee in an atmosphere of reason and calm.

And as I said in announcing my selection of Judge Ginsburg, the confirmation hearings should begin promptly. The integrity of the nomination process and the independence of the judiciary demand that hearings be held within the next few weeks. Moreover, it's critical that the Supreme Court, with its increasingly burdensome caseload, be put back to full strength. Justice Powell's seat has now been vacant for over 4 months—one of the longest vacancies ever. Certainly, there is no more pressing business before Congress than filling Justice Powell's vacant seat on the Court. And I urge the Senate to exercise its constitutional responsibility to vote on this nomination before it adjourns for the year.

There is a vital lesson to be learned in what the Nation has just been through. In the words of Judge Bork himself: "Federal judges are not appointed to decide cases according to the latest opinion polls... but when judicial nominees are assessed and treated like political candidates, the effect will be to chill the climate in which judicial deliberations take place, to erode public confidence in the impartiality of courts, and to endanger the independence of the judiciary. This should not and, indeed, must not be permitted to occur again."

What it comes down to is this: It is my duty, according to my oath of office, to ensure the integrity of the nomination process and the independence of the judiciary. With Judge Ginsburg soon to be before the Senate, I am determined to use all the powers at my disposal as President to do just that. One other thing that repeatedly is being said over and over again about Judge Bork and now about this judge already: that somehow this single new Justice would just totally undo everything that has ever been done that's right and would take positions that would just turn around our country. And we've heard that same Senator that I quoted speak about all the things that would happen to the people of America.

Did anyone ever stop to think that no one judge can do that. What they're saying is they think there are already four judges on the Supreme Court who would do those things if they had a fifth vote to make them a majority. Well, I feel that we've got a Supreme Court that's been doing pretty well by us for quite some time. And I wonder if we shouldn't just start thinking about—can one man do all those horrible things that they suggest unless he's got four more horrible men on the Court with him?

Well, I want to thank all of you for being here and for being willing to listen to us. And God bless all of you. [Applause] I'll just bashfully leave.

Note: The President spoke at 1:43 p.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks to Ethnic and Minority Administration Supporters on the Supreme Court Nomination of Douglas H. Ginsburg Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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