EDITORIAL: John Roberts debate to be an ugly one

After the death of William Rehnquist over the weekend, President Bush raised eyebrows this week with his lightning-quick decision to nominate John Roberts to take Rehnquist’s place. Back when Bush nominated Roberts to take Sandra Day O’Connor’s spot earlier this summer, he was almost guaranteed to get Roberts confirmed by the Senate with flying colors.

But now that Bush wants Roberts to be the Supreme Court’s head cheese, Roberts’ race to the bench just hit a speed bump.

The Senate Judiciary Committee and other concerned senators had trouble evaluating Roberts for O’Connor’s unranking seat, citing inadequate information on Bush’s nomination. Now that Roberts could potentially oversee the entire court, it becomes more critical than ever that the Bush administration cooperate thoroughly with the release of information on John Roberts. Roberts worked under both the Reagan and Bush Sr. administrations, and the Senate needs all possible records in order to investigate the work he has done for both presidents.

But in terms of actual work as a judge, Roberts, who was appointed as a judge on Washington, D.C.’s circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals two years ago, has a short record of actual decisions he’s made.

Because of Roberts’ short judicial resume, it isn’t clear how Roberts will rule on controversial issues such as abortion. But what is clear is that the president named a conservative to take the highest judicial spot in the country, so he should think this one over if he plans on winning over any liberal crowds.

Bush’s decision to name Roberts didn’t exactly have the best timing either. The debate on John Roberts’ nomination is just another ingredient to add to the mix of issues such as hurricane relief and Iraq war efforts over which the country is fighting.

Yesterday, The New York Times reported that the president joked about nominating Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to take Sandra Day O’Connor’s again-vacant seat. Bad move to even mention O’Connor’s spot. Since the stakes have been raised for Roberts’ confirmation hearing, the last thing the president should be focusing on is juggling the responsibility of trying to get two conservative judges on the Supreme Court.

The Senate has a huge responsibility on its hands. During this administration, most Senate confirmation hearings have OK’d the president’s nominations with little or no “hardball questions” whatsoever. But if confirmed, Roberts will be the youngest chief justice of the Supreme Court, giving him possibly 30-plus years to serve on the highest court of the land. The last thing this country needs is a mistake it could regret for the next three decades.

Don’t be surprised if the Senate stirs up an explosive fight over John Roberts. The least painful way for the Bush administration to get Roberts confirmed is by cooperating with the Senate Judiciary Committee and handing over any piece of information that the committee wants to see. As far as Roberts is concerned, he must speak thoroughly and honestly about how he feels on this country’s most divisive issues.

The fight over John Roberts could get ugly. But doing these two things can not only win over the Senate, but will be the only way to win over the American public as well.

The above editorial is the consensus opinion of the Daily Kent Stater editorial board, whose members are listed to the left.