Saturday, June 23, 2001

Hawaii attorney faces
fight for federal bench

By Richard Borreca

Fifty-year-old Honolulu attorney Richard Clifton, a longtime Hawaii Republican adviser, is in for a fight as he seeks confirmation to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Clifton, a partner in the firm of Cades Schutte Fleming & Wright since 1977, was nominated to the bench yesterday by President Bush. He must be confirmed by a Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate.

Clifton failed to win endorsements from Hawaii's two Democratic senators, Daniel Akaka and Daniel Inouye. Both said they would study the nomination and would look to the advice of the American and Hawaii bar associations.

Clifton said he has been a member of the local GOP, but he does not consider himself to be partisan. Clifton, however, has served as the party's volunteer attorney and advised its last two candidates for governor, Pat Saiki and Linda Lingle.

"I am an experienced practicing attorney, and that is the experience I would bring to the job," Clifton said. "I don't think I have an identifiable, overriding philosophy. I would decide cases as they come."

After graduating from Yale Law School in 1975, Clifton served as law clerk to Senior Judge Herbert Choy, Hawaii's only member of the federal appeals court, who has been in semiretirement since 1984.

Clifton is married and has two children. He said he would remain in Hawaii if confirmed. Judges in the 9th Circuit are allowed to stay in their home territories.

The 9th Circuit handles federal appeals from California, Oregon, Arizona, Montana, Idaho, Nevada, Alaska, Hawaii and Washington.

But Clifton faces what could be a protracted confirmation process since judicial nominations have become partisan battles in the Senate.

Honolulu attorney James Duffy had been nominated by President Bill Clinton to the appellate court two years ago, but confirmation was delayed by Republicans.

It was among 62 nominations withdrawn by the Bush administration.

Now, with a Republican president nominating a GOP supporter who must face a Democratic Senate, the chances increase for a drawn-out battle.

Gov. Ben Cayetano, a Democrat, previously has said he thought Clifton was too partisan for the job.

"If you want to appoint a Republican to the federal judiciary, there are a lot of good Republican lawyers around who are fair, who are objective, who believe in the integrity of the judicial system," Cayetano said last month. "You don't need politicians sitting on the bench."

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