- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Not since the early 1820s has the Supreme Court gone so long without a vacancy; Stephen Breyer in 1994 was the last to join the court. That 11-year period is about to come to an end with President Bush’s decision to nominate John G. Roberts Jr. to replace the retiring Sandra Day O’Connor. Judge Roberts, who served as an associate counsel in the Reagan White House and as the Justice Department’s principal deputy solicitor general during the George H.W. Bush administration, looks to be well qualified, having served for the past two years on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

The Republican-controlled Senate should follow the tradition of swift hearings and a timely confirmation vote. That tradition was firmly established by the Senate when Democrats last presided over the Senate and confirmed two nominees of President Clinton, Justice Breyer in 1994 and Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 1993.

Mr. Bush’s friends and supporters appear to be in almost unanimous agreement that with the selection of Judge Roberts the president has redeemed one of his most consequential campaign promises. In introducing Judge Roberts to the nation on Tuesday night, the president said that his nominee would “strictly apply the Constitution and laws — not legislate from the bench.” This is precisely the justice that millions of Americans expected from this president, a justice who will apply the Constitution as it is written and not as judges might wish it had been written. Choosing Judge Roberts, the president rejected the advice to consider race or sex, and based his choice solely on considerations of the law.

Respect for Judge Roberts is not limited to conservatives. A bipartisan group of more than 150 members of the D.C. Bar signed a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee three years ago praising his qualifications when he was named to the appeals court, the second-most powerful court in the land and traditionally a proving ground for the Supreme Court. The letter was written 19 months after the Senate, then controlled by Democrats, had refused Judge Roberts a hearing. Its signatories include the late Lloyd Cutler, who served as White House counsel to both Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, and Seth Waxman, who served as Mr. Clinton’s solicitor general, and deserves to be quoted at length.

“Although, as individuals, we reflect a wide spectrum of political party affiliations and ideology, we are united in our belief that John Roberts will be an outstanding federal court of appeals judge and should be confirmed by the United States Senate. [Mr. Roberts, who has won 25 of the 39 cases he has argued before the Supreme Court] is one of our very best and most highly respected appellate lawyers in the nation, with a deserved reputation as a brilliant writer and oral advocate … John Roberts represents the best of the bar and, we have no doubt, would be a superb federal court of appeals judge.”

All that has changed since is that Judge Roberts has posted an exemplary record on the appeals court. The prospect of a Democratic filibuster now seems remote, given Judge Roberts’ record since the lawyers who know him best offered this resounding tribute to his scholarship and his honesty, his character and his integrity. The “extraordinary circumstances” the Senate’s Gang of 14 said must be present to justify a filibuster are nowhere present. We expect hearings with tough questions, as there should be, and after that his confirmation.

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