Here are contrasting viewpoints on last week's Senate Judiciary Committee hearings for Judge John Roberts, President Bush's candidate for chief justice.
* Democratic senators were out of line in asking Roberts questions on legal issues that are likely to come up before the U.S. Supreme Court.
* Democratic senators had every right to try and pin down the judge on specifics since the 50-year-old appeals court judge is being considered for what amounts to a lifetime appointment as head of the highest court in the land.
Perhaps the fence straddling position is that the senators had every right to ask him those probing questions and he had every right to decline to answer them.
Lost in all of the posturing and speech-making that went on in the Senate was the overlooked fact that judges don't don their black robes and independently issue edicts on abortion, eminent domain or other issues of their choice.
They rule only on legal issues that work their way up through the judicial system. They rule on the facts of each individual case that is argued before them taking into account legal precedents and their interpretation of the U.S. Constitution.
While they certainly have political opinions, the best judges look at each case independently and see how established law applies to it. Supreme Court candidates must show more reticence in expressing their opinions than candidates for Congress or the White House. The judicial branch of government is distinct from those other two branches, in part, because of the qualifications the public demands. We demand judges to be educated in the law and well versed in the Constitution. Our leap of faith is that they'll use their knowledge and professionalism rather than rely upon a gut instinct when deciding cases.
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