Reagan's Mr. Right

Rehnquist is picked for the court's top job

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The contest to fill Rehnquist's seat quickly narrowed to Scalia and a fellow judge on the appeals court in Washington, Robert Bork. A respected former Yale Law School professor, Bork had been lured from a lucrative law- firm job in Washington to the federal bench with strong hints from the Administration that he would be first in line for the next available spot on the court. But Bork carries some political baggage: as acting Attorney General ! in 1973, he obeyed Nixon's order to fire Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox; Elliot Richardson had resigned as Attorney General rather than fire Cox. Scalia offered Reagan the chance to place the first Italian American on the high court. He is nine years younger than Bork, an important consideration for a President who wants to leave a lasting mark on the judiciary. The energetic Scalia was perceived by White House aides as more of a true believer than Bork. Indeed, a few of Scalia's colleagues on the Court of Appeals suspect that he wrote an inordinate number of strongly worded dissenting and concurring opinions on the conservative side of cases simply to advertise that he was 100% in accord with Reagan's views.

Scalia was given first crack at an interview with Reagan, and again the President wasted no time. After trading a few anecdotes with the congenial jurist about old judges they had known, Reagan offered, and Scalia accepted. The tidiness of the selection process pleased the President's advisers; Reagan was spared from ever having to say no.

The Senate is expected to confirm both Rehnquist and Scalia by late summer. Still, both will undergo sharp and searching questioning by liberal Senators. Their nominations raise basic questions about the role of Congress in choosing Supreme Court Justices. Is the Senate's job merely to say whether a President's choice has the intellectual qualifications and experience to sit on the federal bench? If so, Scalia and Rehnquist are above reproach. Both men, declared Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole last week, have "the experience, the background, the integrity, the intelligence and the right stuff."

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