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Jewish Groups Testify Against Judge Involved with Club Suspected of Bias

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Three major Jewish defense agencies testified before the Senate on Tuesday against a federal appeals court nominee who until last week was a member of private country club in Florida that allegedly discriminates against blacks, Jews and other minorities.

The groups also opposed the nomination of U.S. District Court Judge Kenneth Ryskamp because of what the American Jewish Committee called the “gross insensitivity to civil rights concerns” reflected in his court rulings to date.

Ryskamp, whom President Bush has nominated to serve on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, defended his judicial record during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that began Tuesday morning and extended into the evening.

He also maintained that the Riviera Country Club in Coral Cables, Fla., which he joined in 1968 and quit March 13, has Jewish and Hispanic members, and has never received any membership applications from blacks.

Ryskamp said the club is not prejudiced. He dismissed a series of Miami newspaper reports critical of the club’s membership policy as based on erroneous information.

But Samuel Rabinove, legal director of AJCommittee, said the club has been “notorious in the Miami area for its exclusion of African Americans and Jews.”

And the American Jewish Congress quoted the club’s late president, Marion McCune, as boasting to a golf partner that he had “managed to keep the goddamn Jews out of this club.”

‘BLIND SPOT’ ON CIVIL RIGHTS

In testimony to the Senate panel, Arthur Teitelbaum, Southern area director of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, said, “Judge Ryskamp’s membership for over 20 years in a restrictive club reveals an insensitivity toward the civil rights and liberties of minorities.”

“Judges on the federal bench must be free from any possibility or appearance of partiality,” especially when it comes to issues of discrimination, Teitelbaum said.

AJCongress reached its decision to oppose the nomination based both on Ryskamp’s country club membership and his record in civil rights cases while on the U.S. District Court in Miami.

Mark Freedman, executive director of the group’s Southeast region, said he was struck by the number of civil rights cases in which Ryskamp’s rulings were reversed by the higher appellate court.

But some Judiciary Committee members maintained that judges are often overruled at a higher level. Ryskamp said each reversal was based on honest differences between him and judges above him on the U.S. Court of Appeals.

Rabinove of AJCommittee testified, though, that Ryskamp “seems to have a blind spot when it comes to civil rights suits,” though he did not question the judge’s “fundamental decency.”

Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, said Ryskamp had issued some “erroneous rulings” and that he had concerns about his sensitivity to minorities. But he told the nominee, “That doesn’t mean you won’t be confirmed.”

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