Magazine

A Judge With Business Savvy


President Bush on July 19 named federal Appellate Judge John G. Roberts as his choice to join the U.S. Supreme Court and -- so far, at least -- the sky hasn't fallen, the halls of Congress haven't crumbled, and the earth hasn't been hurled into the sun. In short, the American process of the Chief Executive choosing a nominee he believes can pass muster before the Senate is working as the Founding Fathers hoped.

Whether Roberts can negotiate the political minefields in the deeply divided Senate remains to be seen. However, the President has chosen what seems to be a far from extremist candidate who still reflects his views, as is his prerogative regarding his Administration's key nominees. Roberts is a respected lawyer who, before becoming a judge two years ago, was a top counsel in the Reagan White House and a private attorney representing corporations like Chrysler and Litton Systems in patent, antitrust, and regulatory cases.

That business-law experience is encouraging for Corporate America, which has long groused about the Court's lack of enthusiasm to review business cases. The Supremes haven't issued a major merger ruling since the 1970s, for example. At the very least, Roberts' firsthand exposure to regulatory quandaries from both sides of the bench could enhance the court's understanding of the implications of its actions.

Still, the Senate should never rubber-stamp so important a nomination. Because this is an appointment for life, the confirmation process should thoroughly probe Roberts' views on the important business and social issues facing our legal system today: tort reform, environmental regulation, abortion rights, and marriage equality, to name a few. Roberts' beliefs could affect how life is lived in the U.S. for the next quarter century, so Senators should focus on his sensitivity to the changes affecting our society in ways the Constitution's framers could never have imagined. (For one, we doubt James Madison could have predicted the birth of the Internet or its impact on today's America.) The Constitution must remain a living document that adapts to life in the 21st century along with the rest of us. It's time for the Senate to resist the usual partisan temptations and do its duty.


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