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Published: Tuesday, 1/9/2001

A blow for diversity

President Clinton has won a guerrilla battle with the conservative forces who have so far outmaneuvered his efforts to diversify the federal bench of the all-white and ultra-conservative 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va.

Taking advantage of the fact that Congress was not in session, the President named the first black judge to that lily-white circuit, Richmond lawyer Roger Gregory. Mr. Clinton also announced he would formally nominate Mr. Gregory, whose recess appointment otherwise would end next December.

It will then be up to the GOP to let him stay or, a year shy of the next congressional elections, to dare to kick him out.

This federal appellate bench covers Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and the Carolinas, a territory with a larger minority population than any other federal judicial circuit. That makes the racism implicit in its all-whiteness all the more egregious.

It is a bench that has also specialized in delivering novel conservative interpretations of law which have had their share of reversals.

This was the first time in about two decades that a president filled a judge's post during a recess. But radical action was justified, given the GOP tendency in the Senate to behave as if it were the party of the 1860s Confederacy.

Republicans have a credibility gap with women, blacks, most Hispanics, and other minorities. Taken together, the treatment of these groups signals the state of the nation's social health.

The GOP's history in the U.S. Senate of delaying hearings on black judicial nominees is a threat to all of them. And it erodes trust in a president-elect who touts himself as the president of all Americans, even those who didn't vote for him.

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