Monday, July 18, 2005

John Edwards on Supreme Court Nomination

Finding a justice with bipartisan support

RALEIGH -- President Bush now faces one of the most important decisions of his presidency: the nomination of a Supreme Court justice. Many say we are destined for an angry, partisan fight over a nominee. It does not have to be that way.

As I've seen firsthand, if Democrats stand strong for our principles, we can force the administration to do the right thing: nominate a person who will uphold the Constitution and win broad, bipartisan approval.

As a lawyer in North Carolina, I had plenty of experiences with good and bad judges. I've seen up close how crucial it can be to families that judges be fair and impartial. The families that I represented were often devastated by the wrongdoing of corporations and insurance companies, and without a fair and impartial judge they had no chance.

Fairness is even more important for Supreme Court justices -- their decisions can affect an entire nation. We must fight to ensure that the next justice is fair and independent, doesn't have an ideological agenda and will uphold the fundamental rights and liberties in our Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Bush's history of judicial nominations so far gives us reason to worry. Too many of his nominees have been unqualified, ideological partisans who should not serve on the bench. Yet my own experiences show that if we stand strong we can reach an acceptable end result.

• • •

When the president took office, North Carolina hadn't had a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit since 1994. That was a tremendous injustice for the biggest state in the circuit. President Clinton had nominated four individuals from North Carolina, including two trial judges who would have been the first African-American on the court. But these nominees had been blocked by Sen. Jesse Helms.

Bush first told me he planned to nominate federal District Judge Terrence Boyle, a former aide to Helms. Judge Boyle has a long record of hostility to civil rights; his rulings in a single voting rights case have twice been rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court, once by a 9-0 margin. And Boyle had been reversed more than 100 times by the Court of Appeals. So I said no. Boyle was a poor choice whom I couldn't support.

Bush insisted on nominating Boyle anyway. I did everything in my power to stop him from getting a seat, and used every tool available. I don't regret it for a second; he does not deserve a promotion.

The Constitution calls on the president to obtain the advice and consent of the Senate for any judicial nomination. In our history, "advice" has meant listening carefully to the suggestions of senators from both political parties.

So instead of remaining in a deadlock, I went to the administration and worked to find other, acceptable names. After numerous meetings, we found a highly qualified woman named Allyson Duncan.

Judge Duncan wasn't someone I would have chosen as judge. She was a Republican who had worked for Clarence Thomas at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. But she had a long and distinguished mainstream record -- as a law professor at N.C. Central University, as a member of our state's Public Utilities Commission and as a state Court of Appeals judge whose dissenting opinions had repeatedly been adopted by the state Supreme Court. She had won the respect of Democrats, Republicans and civil rights leaders.

By standing up to an unqualified judge, and working with the administration to find somebody else, I had the honor of introducing Duncan to my colleagues on the Judiciary Committee as a nominee. And after her hearing, not a single senator voted against her confirmation.

Duncan became the first African-American appeals court judge from North Carolina. Even more important, she became a mainstream voice on the 4th Circuit. She doesn't always agree with her colleagues, and I don't always agree with her decisions. But based on everything I've seen, she is a thoughtful judge who decides cases on the law and the facts, not her personal ideology.

This is the path to follow in the Supreme Court nominating process. If Bush nominates someone unacceptable, we must fight it with all our strength. If he follows the Duncan model, not the Boyle model -- offering his own choices but listening to Democrats, not ignoring them -- he can find a nominee with broad and bipartisan support.

(John Edwards, a Raleigh Democrat and former U.S. senator, was the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2004.)


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