Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

How to Choose a Justice

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

How to Choose a Justice

Article excerpt

Much is being said about how quickly the Senate should act on President Obama's nominee to the US Supreme Court, Judge Merrick Garland. Just as the president has discretion in choosing a nominee for a vacant seat, so the Senate also has discretion in determining the speed with which it performs its role to vote on the nominee.

The Constitution sets no timetable. But it seems clear that the Garland nomination now fully embodies a politicization of the nomination process, something that can be seen in Senate votes regarding the current justices.

In 1986 Justice Antonin Scalia, whose death created the vacant seat, was confirmed by a 98-to-0 vote of the Senate. And it must be generally agreed that he was not a "compromise" or middle-of-the- road candidate but a justice with a strong conservative bent. Yet senators from both parties unanimously allowed then-President Ronald Reagan to appoint a justice whose views were compatible with his own.

In 1993, President Bill Clinton nominated Ruth Bader Ginsburg, generally considered to be a liberal jurist. The Senate agreed that she was qualified for the post and by a vote of 96 to 3 allowed Mr. Clinton to appoint a justice with views compatible with his own.

But more recent nominees have fared less well. President George W. Bush's nominee, Samuel A. Alito Jr., was confirmed 52 to 48. Mr. Obama's first nominee, Sonia Sotomayor, was approved by just 69 to 31, and his second previous nominee, Elana Kagan, by 63 to 37.

In a speech given at a Boston law school only days before Justice Scalia's death, Chief Justice John Roberts bemoaned the politicization of the nomination process. Referring to recent Senate votes on Supreme Court nominees, Chief Justice Roberts said "the votes were, I think, strictly on party lines for the last three of them, or close to it, and that doesn't make any sense. …

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