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What to Ask Nominee Roberts

Senators should probe his impartiality

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Campaign mode. That's been the modus operandi of interest groups on the left and right before President Bush announced his Supreme Court nominee on prime time television Tuesday evening.

By naming federal appeals court judge John Roberts - a choice less contentious than many had expected - the fighting mentality may recede somewhat, but it's unlikely to disappear.

Treating this nomination as a heated political battle will not serve America. A justice isn't to be confused with an elected official, who swims in the political and ideological currents of the times. Rather, this lifetime appointee's job is to do the exact opposite - to stand high on the rock of the Constitution, untouched by the swirling waters of popular or personal opinion.

Impartiality highly important

It almost goes without saying that establishing the nominee's impartiality has to be of prime importance in senators' questioning of Judge Roberts. Yet these lawmakers are under extreme pressure from highly paid lobbyists, sophisticated interest groups, and voters to focus on the nominee's presumed ideology.

From what is known now, the nominee has impressive credentials. Having graduated with honors from Harvard Law School, clerked for Chief Justice William Rehnquist, argued 39 cases before the Supreme Court (winning 25), and served two presidents (Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush) in a legal capacity, he obviously has deep familiarity with the law and the role of the high court.

His nomination remarks about getting a lump in his throat every time he ascended the Supreme Court's marble steps point to a humility that viewers saw for the first time Tuesday, but those who know him say is genuine. Such a quality, as well as reported geniality and open-mindedness, show the kind of temperament necessary for this hot seat.

With those qualifications well established, that leaves judicial approach and personal ideology to probe. Significant, culturally divisive issues such as bioethics, gay marriage, so-called partial-birth abortion and right-to-die are expected to reach the high court. To rule on such cases - as well as ones that can't even be anticipated yet - the nominee must be able to put ideology aside.

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