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Obama's test of impartiality for Souter's successor

Justice must be blind, not partisan. The Supreme Court can't be another political battleground.

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If there is one branch of government that Americans want to be nonpartisan, it is the court system. But even the Supreme Court itself can't seem to achieve that – thus the need for an odd number (nine) of justices on the bench.

That's why President Obama will be hard-pressed not to simply replace the departing Justice David Souter with someone who similarly throws impartiality to the winds. Or someone who takes the easy route of bringing a political approach – in this case liberal – to justice.

During his campaign, Mr. Obama promised to bring change to Washington's partisan ways. His picks for lower court judges so far hint he will nod to some GOP concerns in nominating a Supreme Court justice. But trying to find someone who wears a red-blue mix of political stripes misses the point about courts being neutral arbiters.

Obama says he wants judges who have "the heart, the empathy ... to understand what it's like to be poor, or African-American, or gay, or disabled, or old." Such goals are noble – for a politician. But that requirement butts up against the federal judicial oath. Judges must swear to "administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich."

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