GOP senator sets proper tone for high court confirmation vote

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The president has the power to pick Supreme Court justices. The Senate's role is to ensure the candidates are qualified.

President Obama's nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court, Elena Kagan, took a step toward confirmation this week in what the president described as a "bipartisan affirmation of her strong performance."

Bipartisan? Not really. Only one Republican, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, joined with the Democrats on the committee.

But, given the Grand Canyon-size divide that generally exists between Republicans and Democrats in Congress, perhaps a single GOP vote should be taken as a positive sign. More importantly, the reasoning for Graham's decision to cross party lines is sound.

Graham understands it is the president's constitutional duty to nominate justices to the Supreme Court and it is the duty of the Senate to confirm those nominees are qualified.

"What's in Elena Kagan's heart is that of a good person who adopts a philosophy I disagree with," Graham said. "She will serve this nation honorably, and it would not have been someone I would have chosen, but the person who did choose, President Obama, I think chose wisely."

Exactly. The confirmation process is not about senators picking who they want to serve on the bench. The process is about making sure the candidates are qualified and have a grasp of the law and Constitution.

It's a given that a president -- Democrat or Republican -- is more likely to appoint judges who share his judicial (as well as political) philosophies.

Once a justice is confirmed she or he is not beholden to either the president or the Senate. Appointments to the Supreme Court are for a lifetime, which means these judges can't be fired.

By the way, that's not the case with state supreme courts.

In Washington state, for example, justices are elected for six-year terms. The state is currently going through an election cycle and two of the court's nine-seats could be decided by the Aug. 17 primary. Washington's election law mandates candidates who get over 50 percent of the vote in the primary in non-partisan races are declared the winners. That will happen in one race as only two candidates are on the ballot. It could also happen in the three-way race.

Make the effort to vote in the primary election so your voice can be heard in deciding who will serve on the state's high court. (The U-B will be offering its recommendations in these two races next week prior to the mailing of ballots, which is set for July 30.)

Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate confirmation process continues. Kagan now looks like a lock to be confirmed, but what is even more certain is the partisan shenanigans will continue to degrade confirmation process.

Graham got it right. The president is empowered to pick Supreme Court justices, the Senate is not.

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