Judge favoring public chanukiot being considered for higher court

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Many of the same Jewish activists who have spent years facing off against Nathan Lewin are now backing the constitutional scholar in his quest to win President Clinton's nod for a seat on the influential 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Lewin, best known in the Jewish world for his advocacy of the right to display chanukiot on public property, has emerged as one of two finalists for the coveted seat on the court.

Lewin, the current director of the American section of the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, also serves as the vice president of the National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs.

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, sent a letter to the White House backing Lewin for the post.

"Based on our number of years working with him, he would be qualified for the appellate bench," Foxman said in an interview.

American Jewish Congress officials also sent word of support to the White House.

"He's an effective advocate and a man of great integrity," said Mark Pelavin, Washington, D.C., representative of the AJCongress.

Both Jewish groups, staunch supporters of church-state separation, have opposed Lewin in legal battles involving the display of chanukiot and other religious symbols.

As Lewin's candidacy continues to gain momentum, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) has stepped up efforts on behalf of his own choice for the post, Chester Straub.

A former chairman of Moynihan's campaign committee, Straub now works alongside former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo at a Manhattan law firm.

The New York-based 2nd Circuit is widely seen as the next best assignment to the Supreme Court.

Both Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Stephen Breyer, the two Jewish justices on the Supreme Court, sat on the appeals court before Clinton picked them for the Supreme Court.

Lewin was not available for comment.