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Washington-U.S. district court judges appointed by President Bush are the most conservative in overall voting patterns since those appointed by Woodrow Wilson, according to a recent study by court scholars. And they are significantly more conservative than those appointed by Ronald Reagan in civil rights and civil liberties, the study says. What’s more, despite numerous special commissions and recommendations in the last decade or so, the length of time it takes to fill federal judicial vacancies continues to increase at a sharp rate, reports a separate study by a bipartisan initiative of the Constitution Project, based in Washington. The analysis of Bush trial judges comes in a soon-to-be published study: The Voting Behavior of George W. Bush’s Judges: How Sharp a Turn to the Right, by political scientists Robert Carp of the University of Houston, Kenneth Manning of the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, and Ronald Stidham of Appalachian State University. They worked from a database of more than 75,000 opinions by almost 1,800 judges from 1933 through the fall of 2005, including 795 decisions by judges appointed by Bush. Out-Reaganing Reagan “What’s most significant is the really conservative nature of decision-making by this President Bush’s judges in the civil rights and civil liberties area,” said Carp, the study’s lead investigator. “Up until this point, Reagan judges were regarded as the most conservative and the first President Bush’s judges still very conservative but a little more moderate than Reagan judges. But George W. Bush’s judges are five percentage points more conservative than Reagan judges. That is substantively and statistically significant.” Comparing the last eight administrations in the civil rights/civil liberties area, the study reports, 27.2% of decisions by Bush judges were liberal compared with his those of his Republican predecessors: Richard Nixon’s judges, 37.8%; Gerald Ford’s, 39.7%; Reagan’s, 32%; and George H.W. Bush’s, 32.1%. On the Democratic side, 57.9% of decisions by Lyndon Johnson’s judges were liberal, 50.9% of Jimmy Carter’s, and 41.2% of Bill Clinton’s. Overall, in the three areas studied-civil rights/civil liberties, criminal justice and economic/labor regulation-the percentage of liberal rulings was: for Johnson’s judges, 51.9%; Carter’s, 51.2%; Clinton’s, 41.2%; Nixon’s, 38%; Ford’s, 43%; Bush I’s, 36.5%; Reagan’s, 35.2%; and Bush II’s judges, 33.3%.
Leaning left, leaning right
Percentage of liberal decisions in three case types by judges appointed by the eight most recent presidents
Appointing president Civil liberties and rights Criminal justice Economic and labor regulation All Cases
Johnson 57.9% 36.6% 62.9% 51.9%
Nixon 37.8 27.0 48.5 38.0
Ford 39.7 34.5 52.4 43.0
Carter 50.9 38.0 60.9 51.2
Reagan 32.0 25.3 48.6 35.5
Bush 32.1 29.0 49.8 36.5
Clinton 41.2 38.8 54.2 44.0
W. Bush 27.2 29.8 47.3 33.3
Source: Carp/Manning/Stidham

Carp’s method, one traditionally used by political scientists, analyzed cases that fit easily into one of 28 case types and contained a clear liberal-conservative dimension, he said. This included cases such as labor-management disputes and right-to-privacy issues, and excluded such cases as admiralty and patent disputes. While generally accepted by political scientists, the method has sometimes been criticized by legal scholars who believe decisions are not so easily categorized. “Overall, such percentages are more misleading than helpful, since no case can truly be analyzed apart from its factual record,” said Douglas Kmiec of Pepperdine University School of Law. Longer nomination periods The Constitution Project’s Courts Initiative reported that both the nomination and senatorial processing times for federal judgeships continues to increase. The project, which recommends 60 days for Senate action, noted that processing times in that chamber historically have been fastest in a president’s first two years in office. In the first two years of Bush II’s administration, the average processing time was 133 days, higher than that of the previous four presidents. For example, Reagan’s nominees took 33 days and Clinton’s 83 days. In the second two years of Bush II, processing time jumped to 226 days, compared with 158 days for Clinton’s appointees; 83 days for Bush I’s; 36 days for Reagan’s; and 90 days for Carter’s. “We were frankly startled to find the amount of time it takes is still growing,” said Kathryn Monroe, the initiative’s director. “This is a consumer issue and a call for officials on both sides of the aisle to pay attention to.”

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