News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion


Lifetime appointment would temper Roberts

The nation knows too little about Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts to guess his stand on the many pivotal issues that would come before him if confirmed. What we do know, however, is that the Founding Fathers created a system that tends to bring out the best in federal judges.

Mr. Roberts' service as a federal appellate judge since 2003 provides little data from which to extrapolate, both because of its short duration and because circuit courts, unlike the U.S. Supreme Court, are bound by prior Supreme Court decisions.

Opponents are trying to make hay with his record as a deputy solicitor general. While this stint provides some guidance, guessing the personal views of a lawyer from what he says as an advocate for his clients' interests is problematic.

The most positive sign came from the judge he would replace. After hearing of the nomination Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said, "That's fabulous!" She went on to describe Mr. Roberts, according to the Spokesman Review, as a "brilliant legal mind, a straight shooter, articulate, and he should not have trouble being confirmed by October. He's good in every way, except he's not a woman."

The lifetime appointment that awaits Mr. Roberts if confirmed guarantees the 50-year-old would be a major factor on the court for years to come.

The lifetime appointment also guarantees something else. It guarantees Mr. Roberts will be his own man. He will have no incentive to cater to the big business that increasingly bankrolls the far right. There is no post-appointment job he has to worry about. There is no higher judicial system to which he can aspire.

The fact that a conservative nominee will shape the court for decades to come may be frightening. We can hope, however, that, like Justice O'Connor and Chief Justice William Rehnquist, his independence will lead him to serve the nation with compassion and wisdom.

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