Sorry, senator; vacancy on court must be filled quickly

Published 5:00 am Monday, September 26, 2005

Sen. Arlen Specter, the Republican chairman of the SenateJudiciary Committee earned high marks recently for his handling ofthe hearings on Judge John Roberts’ nomination as chief justice ofthe United States. However, Specter’s standing in our minds slippeda little last week when he suggested President Bush should hold offon filling the other court vacancy – that of Justice Sandra DayO’Connor – until the nation sees what kind of justice Roberts willbe.

The president, Specter said, should ask O’Connor to remain onthe bench for the full upcoming term to give the country time togauge Roberts’ performance.

The moderate Specter’s concern, it seems, is that Roberts’rulings may be too far right, thereby tipping the current balanceof the court. This, Specter and other left-of-center politiciansreason, would give them ammunition in urging Bush to fill the othervacancy with a less conservative judge.

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The problems with this line of reasoning are many.

First, as we’ve said before, Supreme Court nominations shouldnot hinge on judges’ political or social leanings. Instead, theemphasis should be finding the most qualified judges possible tosit on the nation’s highest court.

Elections have results, and one result of the last presidentialelection is that Bush is empowered to fill the current vacancies onthe court with nominees of his choosing. Yes, the Senate has theopportunity to review and confirm the nominees, but to deny apresident’s nominee requires more than a difference of politicalopinion.

Furthermore, O’Connor has expressed her desire to retire fromthe bench but agreed to say on until her successor is confirmed.Americans deserve a full complement of judges on the nation’shighest court, and the president and the Senate owe it to her tomove deliberately but quickly to accommodate her wishes and findher replacement.

The likely confirmation of Roberts as chief justice followed byanother Bush nominee to the court could very possibly move the bodyto the right, but Sen. Specter and his moderate and liberal croniesmust understand that’s exactly how way this process works.