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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, August 9, 2001

Booby prize: Two Republican senators

Viewed from the perspective of appointments to the federal bench, it might seem Hawai'i has been paying dearly in recent years for being burdened with Democratic U.S. senators in a Senate controlled by Republicans.

Consider that Honolulu attorney Jim Duffy, who was nominated by President Clinton to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in June 1999, never received a confirmation hearing from the Republican-led U.S. Senate, even though he waited over two years, and even though Hawai'i hadn't had an active appeals judge on that panel since Herbert Y.C. Choy took senior status in 1984.

It took well over two years for the nomination of Susan Oki Mollway to the federal District Court here to make it through the Senate.

And Hawai'i has gone without a U.S. attorney since President Bush took office more than six months ago and called for the resignation of all Clinton-appointed U.S. attorneys.

Bush has named Honolulu attorney Richard Clifton for the 9th Circuit seat, and it appears he has all the legal and intellectual credentials required.

But not only is Bush late in the game in filling the U.S. attorney slot here, but he will have his work cut out for him finding a worthy replacement for Steven Alm.

In short, having Democratic U.S. senators has put Hawai'i at a clear disadvantage, right? Well, that depends. You could be South Carolina, for instance, whose ranking senator is Strom Thurmond, a Republican with more seniority than Methuselah.

So who is South Carolina getting as its new attorney? Turns out the nominee, recommended by Thurmond himself, is "a man of character and integrity" who "will make a fine U.S. attorney" — none other than J. Strom Thurmond Jr.

"And in South Carolina," remarked the Washington Post, "that is all the qualification one needs."

Never mind that Thurmond the younger is only 28 years old, out of law school only three years, and has never managed an office of any size, never mind a 60-person prosecution factory that has the power to seek the death penalty.

The State newspaper of Columbia, S.C., found back in February that the 93 U.S. attorneys then in office had an average age of about 50 and 22 years experience in law.

But never mind. As President Kennedy put it in appointing his younger brother as attorney general, this kid has to get some experience somewhere. After all, one of these days he'll have to face the real world.

So which state is worse off: Hawai'i with its two Democratic senators who can't seem to get warm bodies confirmed to serve? Or South Carolina, whose senior senator hasn't had the experience of anyone saying "no" to him in anyone else's living memory — and whose junior senator, Ernest Hollings, is a Democrat?