A possible tilt away from all-out opposition to Judge Douglas H. Ginsburg by liberal Jewish leadersmay weaken the wall of opposition that blocked Robert Bork's Senate confirmation to the Supreme Court on, above all else, the civil rights issue.
If confirmed, the 41-year-old circuit court of appeals jurist would be the only Jewish member of the high court. An aide to one Jewish senator told us this factor ''is softening'' Jewish critics of his conservative ideology, despite the American Jewish Congress' denial that Ginsburg might receive favorable consideration. Senators backing Ginsburg see signs the Hispanic community, an active participant with Jewish and black leaders in the umbrella Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, may also lay off Ginsburg.
Even with the dilution of that potent civil rights organization, whose main purpose is protecting constitutional rights of blacks, Ginsburg is far from out of trouble. ''We're not going to get his confirmation papers delivered on any silver platter,'' an administration official told us.
Showing anger, the senior White House staff meeting early this week chewed up the American Bar Association's Committee on Federal Judiciary for its unprofessional Oct. 30 conduct. An unnamed member of the ABA's supposedly sacrosanct screening panel kissed off Ginsburg by telling The Washington Post: ''It looks to me like we may be going from a Bork to a Borklet.''
Sen. Strom Thurmond, ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, went further than closed-door criticism. He telephoned retired Judge Harold Tyler Jr., chairman of the ABA committee, to ask that the offender be apprehended and kicked off the 15-member panel. ''He should recuse himself,'' Thurmond told us. With Gordon Humphrey and most other Republicans on the Senate committee joining in, Thurmond signed a letter to Tyler making that demand in writing.
What angered them was the ex cathedra pronouncement on Ginsburg, while the ABA panel was saying it could not even finish its inquiry into his fitness for the Supreme Court for at least another two weeks.
That tends to downgrade any finding by the panel that Ginsburg may not be ''well qualified'' to sit on the high court. Indeed, administration officials have now switched from their earlier, tentative decision that a ''not opposed'' rating for Ginsburg would compel them to withdraw the nomination.
With the screening committee now under Senate criticism, White House aides think Ginsburg might survive a ''not opposed'' rating. ''We give too much weight to the bar association,'' Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Judiciary Committee member, told us.
Making this case stronger is that at 41, and with less than a year on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, Ginsburg has a thin record of utterances. The last Supreme Court nominee who received the ''not opposed'' rating was Sandra Day O'Connor, mainly because she had no federal judicial record at all. But the first woman nominee went on to breeze through the Senate without trouble.
Liberals who opposed Bork on grounds of ideological conviction, but then exploited his prolific writings to bring him down on specious allegations that they showed him to be anti-civil rights, would have an easy explanation for not opposing Ginsburg. With virtually no civil rights record at all, Ginsburg enters the Senate confirmation process far less vulnerable than Bork.
Dave Brody, the longtime head of the Washington office of the Anti-Defamation League (part of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights), told us that Jewish groups ''will be looking at Judge Ginsburg's record but particularly at his positions as they are developed on issues of concern.'' The ADL took no public position on Bork and will not on Ginsburg on grounds that the issue is strictly a ''political'' one. The same is true of other tax-exempt organizations, such as the American Jewish Committee.
But leaders of these constituent pressure groups are well and widely received on Capitol Hill. Their opinions carry weight. The lack of a Jewish justice ever since Abe Fortas resigned as an associate justice in May 1969 has been a source of frustration within the Jewish community. Ginsburg's confirmation would change that.
But today his nomination remains in a kind of limbo, despite evidence that appears to exonerate him entirely from a cable TV conflict-of-interest charge. His only champion is Attorney General Edwin Meese, regarded by even Republican senators as more a political liability than an asset because of his own troubles.