Oct 15 2005

Senate’s Shifting Standards in Judging Nominees

Aside from fighting the War on Terror, President Bush’s appointment of judges to the federal bench -- including two Supreme Court justices -- will be the defining legacy of his time in office. Like President Bush, I want judges who make good decisions based upon the law as written. I don’t want them to make new laws or take the law into their own hands. That role should be left to elected representatives in Congress and the President. As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee for the past three years, I’ve had a front-row seat in the confirmation process of judges and I’m very concerned about what I see happening. The Senate seems to be getting away from judging a nominee’s experience, ethics, character, temperament and qualifications. We increasingly want to administer political allegiance tests to judicial nominees. This new standard wants potential judges to agree with a Senators values and beliefs in return for a vote for confirmation. The Senate didn’t always operate this way. Justice Antonin Scalia, a conservative nominated by former President Reagan, and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, a liberal nominated by former President Clinton, are both examples of nominees who were qualified for their positions and received overwhelming votes (98 for Scalia, 96 for Ginsberg) -- even though may Senators did not agree with their legal philosophies. A prime example of our new standard was the recent confirmation of John Roberts as the 17th Chief Justice of the United States. There’s no doubt President Bush chose wisely when he nominated him for the position as Roberts was a well-qualified nominee who may be the best legal mind in the country today. However I was greatly concerned by the fact he did not receive an overwhelming, near-unanimous vote in the Judiciary Committee (13-5) or on the Senate floor (78-22) like previous nominees. What was equally disturbing was some of the comments made by Senators who voted against him. He was called “incredible, probably one of the most schooled appellate lawyers at least in his generation,” “well qualified, well-spoken, unflappable,” “an outstanding lawyer, well educated and serious,” “obviously qualified in his legal education and litigation experience,” “Earnest, incredibly intelligent, a superb lawyer,” “brilliant, accomplished,” and “a judge who will be loyal and faithful to the process of law.” If being intelligent, brilliant, a superb lawyer, the greatest legal mind of your generation, personally decent and well qualified for the position is not enough then what is? There’s no doubt this new standard some Senators are adopting is bad for the judiciary and will prove to be bad for the country.