A D.C. federal appeals court panel ruled yesterday that a dispute over President Reagan's power to replace local attorney William A. Borders Jr. on the city's judicial nomination commission has been settled by Borders' resignation from the commission.
The ruling leaves standing an opinion last year by U.S. District Judge John Garrett Penn, who said Reagan exceeded his powers when he attempted to replace Borders, but means that Penn's opinion does not set a precedent for future cases, according to commission chairman Frederick B. Abramson.
Penn's initial ruling was widely hailed by local officials as a victory for home rule. Local officials said Congress intended for the seven commission members to act "without fear of removal," and to be isolated from politics. The president, the mayor, the City Council, the chief judge of the U.S. District Court here, and the D.C. Bar appoint members to the commission.
Borders, an appointee of President Carter, resigned from the commission April 1, three days after his conviction by a federal jury in Atlanta on bribery charges in a case involving a federal judge in Miami. The judge, Alcee L. Hastings, has been indicted on charges of conspiracy to solicit bribes but has not been tried.
Months before Borders' indictment on the charges, Reagan had tried to appoint local attorney Philip A. Lacovara to Borders' seat, and Borders challenged the appointment in court.
Presidential appointees to the commission are named for a five-year term. Penn rejected the Reagan administration's contention that incoming administrations may remove the presidential appointee from a previous administration.
The White House appealed the ruling and a panel composed of appeals court judges Roger Robb, George E. Mackinnon and Patricia M. Wald was to hear arguments on Friday. In their ruling yesterday, the judges granted an administration request to withdraw the appeal and sent the case back to Penn, directing him to dismiss the original complaint as moot.
A bill introduced last year by Sen. Charles McC. Mathias (R-Md.), would, among other things, amend the law so that presidential appointees would serve at the pleasure of the president. No hearings have been held on that bill.