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Jewish Leaders Say Court Nominee’s Record, Not Religion, is at Issue

November 4, 1987
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

President Reagan’s latest Supreme Court nominee cannot necessarily count on the support of the Jewish community, despite the fact that Judge Douglas Ginsburg would become, if confirmed by the Senate, the first Jew to serve on the high court since 1969.

White Hose spokesman Marlin Fitzwater conceded last week that Ginsburg’s Jewishness was one of the factors Reagan considered in selecting him last Thursday to join the court as an associate justice.

There has been much speculation since the appointment that because he is a Jew, opponents would not be able to attack Ginsburg as strongly as they did his colleague on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, Judge Robert Bork.

Bork, Reagan’s first choice to succeed Justice Lewis Powell, who retired from the court this summer, was rejected by the Senate by a 58-42 vote Oct. 23.

But Jewish leaders interviewed by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency stressed that Ginsburg’s so far unknown opinions on such issues as the separation of church and state, privacy and civil rights would ultimately be more important considerations for Jewish advocacy groups than the fact that Ginsburg would be the sixth Jew to serve on the Supreme Court.

“Jews, like other Americans, are chiefly concerned about the quality of a nominee’s understanding of constitutional justice,” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith. “The fact that Judge Douglas Ginsburg is Jewish is irrelevant to the question of his competency.”

these views were echoed by Hyman Bookbinder, former Washington representative of the American Jewish Committee. “Anytime a Jew is appointed to a high position” there is a feeling of “satisfaction” within the Jewish community, he said. This, he said, is the same satisfaction Jews have in knowing that there are seven Jews in the U.S. Senate, who were elected not because they were Jews, but for their views, and that being Jews did not keep them from achieving high office.


But Bookbinder said he “deeply resented” the idea of some in the administration that as a Jew, Ginsburg would be immune from criticism. “If he is not qualified for the court, then his Jewishness will not play a role at all” in deciding how the Jewish community reacts to the appointment, he said.

Both Bookbinder and David Brody, ADL’s Washington representative, rejected suggestions that Ginsburg would fill the Jewish seat on the court. “We can’t support the notion of a Jewish seat because that implies a quota,” Brody said.

This view was also stressed at the biennial convention of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC) in Chicago this week.

Addressing the convention, Albert Vorspan, senior vice president of the Reform organization, said, “We do not believe that there is a single Jewish seat on the Supreme Court, nor should the bench be the province of any ethnic or religious group. The only standards by which to judge a nominee are his qualifications and convictions.”

Reagan, in announcing Ginsburg’s nomination, stressed that Ginsburg is a “believer in judicial restraint,” who “is highly respected by his peers across the political spectrum.”

Although he is a conservative who has been a strong advocate of the free market approach to regulation and anti-trust, Ginsburg’s views on most constitutional issues are unknown.

As these views become known during his Senate confirmation hearing, Bookbinder predicted that, as in the case of Bork, some Jews will support him and others oppose him, but the majority will not take a public stand.


The UAHC and the American Jewish Congress were among the leading Jewish opponents of the Bork nomination. Vorspan stressed at the Chicago convention that Ginsburg’s Jewishness will “in no way exempt him from a searching examination of his views and records by all Americans, including American Jews.”

He warned that if the UAHC’s “scrutiny of Judge Ginsburg’s beliefs and judicial record” finds that Reagan “kept his promise to name a new candidate more objectionable than Judge Bork, we will publicly oppose his confirmation and testify against him. For the moment we have no opinion.”

David Saperstein, co-director and counsel of the UAHC’s Religious Action Center, added, in an interview with JTA that “if anyone at the Justice Department believes that the Jewish community would sacrifice its responsibility to oppose any individual who proves to be a threat to our fundamental rights, it is an insult and a gravely wrong assessment.”

Theodore Mann, president of the American Jewish Congress, also stressed that Ginsburg’s Jewishness would not save him from opposition if he holds the same views as Bork. He said the AJCongress also is waiting to learn more about Ginsburg.


Meanwhile, in checking with Jews inside and outside the Reagan administration, the JTA was unable to find any participation by Ginsburg in the organized Jewish community.

Some Jewish leaders pointed out, however, that the last Jew to serve on the court, Abe Fortas, also was not identified with the Jewish community.

Ginsburg’s first wife, Claudia de Secundy, told the New York Times that they were married in a synagogue “primarily because of his mother,” but did not join a congregation after their marriage.

Their 17-year-old daughter is named Jessica de Secundy, because Ginsburg wanted to preserve his wife’s family name, according to his former wife. “He said there were lots of Ginsburgs around,” de Secundy told the Times. “No one else in my family was having kids.”

Ginsburg and his current wife, Dr. Hallee Morgan, an obstetrician, have a 2-year-old daughter, also named Hallee Morgan, which is also the name of the elder Morgan’s mother.

Ginsburg, who was born in Chicago on May 25, 1946, graduated from Cornell University and the University of Chicago Law School. He was a law clerk for Justice Thurgood Marshall.

An assistant professor and then professor at the Harvard Law School from 1975 to 1983, Ginsburg served the Reagan administration first as an official in the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division and then in the Office of Management and Budget. He returned to the Justice Department in 1985 as an assistant attorney general in charge of the Antitrust Division.

The first Jew named to the Supreme Court was Louis Brandeis, who served from 1916 to 1939. He was followed by Benjamin Cardozo, 1932-38; Felix Frankfurter, 1939-62; Arthur Goldberg, 1962-65; and Fortas, 1965-69.

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