- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 30, 2005

Pretty soon, Supreme Court nominees will be asked to supply the Senate with their high-school papers in an effort to determine their future votes on key issues like abortion and the Ten Commandments. That is, of course, if the special-interest groups have their way.

It simply won’t be enough for candidates to have the academic brilliance that makes them unquestionably qualified for such an exalted position. Graduating summa cum laude from Harvard won’t mean anything if in the distant past the nominee took a position that is even the slightest bit disturbing to those who would set the social agenda for the nation.

Take the latest nominee, John Roberts — indisputably among the top tier of those who graduated from Harvard in the last century and a fast-track Supreme Court clerk, practicing lawyer and federal circuit court judge since.

Judge Roberts now must answer for statements he made 25 years ago while a deputy U.S. solicitor general as if those papers were relevant today. We can hope the administration resists the demand from Democrats and special-interest allies searching desperately for something to derail the nomination.

Their request for about 75,000 pages of writings is ridiculous, and the White House correctly argues they amount to the privileged advice of a lawyer to his client who just happened to be president of the United States. Democrats have told President Bush how disappointed they are in not gaining access to documents that will be a guide to Judge Roberts’ judicial philosophy. Tough.

Leading the charge is Sen. Edward Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, whose brother, ironically, appointed the most conservative member of the court in the last 50 years, Justice Byron White. Mr. Kennedy, longtime Senate liberal pillar, questions Judge Roberts’ statements on civil rights in documents he wrote for President Ronald Reagan nearly a quarter-century ago. There is no indication, of course, Judge Roberts now believes these statements, whatever they were, or that he was doing anything more than he was asked to do, trying to provide the president justification for his policy.

Those looking for ammunition against Judge Roberts should search for someone to carry their water without his own youthful indiscretions. Or have we completely forgotten the car accident at Chappaquiddick in 1969, resulting in the death of a young lady and the end of the senator’s presidential prospects? Perhaps we should remember that longtime West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd once was a member of the Ku Klux Klan and has long demonstrated he now abhors positions of such groups.

Judge Roberts’ record has been relatively indefinable in terms of social issues that drive the Supreme Court debate. This increases the frustration of those who would like to derail him as being too conservative. They would like nothing better than to delay confirmation hearings as long as possible on the chance they might turn up something in his past, personal or public, that would help their efforts as they ultimately did with Justice Clarence Thomas. The unsubstantiated allegations of sexual abuse from a longtime friend of Justice Thomas’ nearly kept him off the court after opponents could find no other reason to deny him confirmation. It was among the most vicious attacks in confirmation history.

Efforts to tie the strong opposition to abortion on the part of Judge Roberts’ a devout Catholic wife have fallen flat, as they should. If every nominee must answer for a spouse’s positions, no one would be elected or confirmed. George H.W. Bush opposed gun control; his wife strongly supported controls. Fortunately, the story about Judge Roberts’ wife has no legs.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, has made it clear to Democrats he wants to start confirmation hearings before Labor Day to complete the process before the Supreme Court’s new term begins in October. Retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has said she will stay on until her replacement is confirmed.

Judge Roberts, like others before him, can’t be expected to answer directly how he stands on any given issue that might face the court. Nor should his opinions given to another president more than two decades ago when he was barely out of law school be used against him, even if now controversial.

The president has selected a qualified candidate for the nation’s highest court, and the Democrats should get over it.

Dan K. Thomasson is former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service.

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