Supreme Court vacancy a key test

Published 10:20 pm Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The retirement of Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, who has served commendably for 35 years and is the leader of the court’s liberal wing, probably won’t change the ideological balance of the court.

But his departure sets in motion a political battle that will last for months. The timing, with the run-up to midterm elections, ensures the process of nominating his successor will be politically charged.

Senators need to keep in mind that their job is to determine whether President Obama’s choice is qualified to serve. While the candidate deserves the utmost scrutiny, the process does not give senators the authority to impose their own ideological litmus tests on nominees.

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Easier said than done, and assuredly politicians and interest groups of all stripes will attempt to tilt the process to get a justice favorable to their point of view. Stevens’ departure poses interesting challenges for the Obama administration both in terms of politics and court composition.

Conservatives very well may try to use the process to fire up their political base in advance of November elections that could change the balance of power in Congress. Liberals may view the vacancy as their opportunity, perhaps their last for the foreseeable future, to get a truly hard- left-leaning justice on the court.

Whatever calculus the president employs to choose a nominee, it is imperative that he select someone who is thoroughly qualified to serve on the nation’s highest court. That, of course, will be a topic for the Senate to explore, and we expect its members will fully scrutinize the president’s nominee.

What we hope not to see is a descent into baseless attacks and hyper-partisanship. Ever since Democrats torpedoed Ronald Reagan’s nomination of Robert Bork, the Supreme Court nomination process has gotten too political and too far removed from the role the Constitution ascribes to the Senate.

The president’s nominee, whoever that might be, deserves a fair and open-minded review based on the nominee’s qualifications to serve on the court. The American people should demand no less, and no more.

The Denver Poster