A panel discussion Tuesday (yesterday) at the University of Northern Iowa looked at the process going on right now of choosing justices for the U.S. Supreme Court, and the future of the confirmation process. UNI Political Science professor Scott Peters points out with two vacancies on the nation’s highest court, we’re literally in the middle of it. He says it looks like John Roberts may be confirmed this week, maybe as early as Thursday, and President Bush could announce his next nominee as early as Friday. Professor Peters himself doesn’t have any guesses as to the identity of the next nominee for the Supreme Court. Peters says the list will certainly include some women judges and minorities, as there’s been pressure to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor with “someone other than a white man.” There have been lists offered by the press, of federal-court judges and others who meet that definition. Peters says they’re just speculation, since really the only people who know who the nominee might be are the president and a few of his close advisors. Peters says there’s little difference between today’s process and the nomination and confirmation for the last addition to the Supreme Court, which took place more than a decade ago. One difference is that the atmosphere’s more openly partisan and Peters doesn’t see that changing. Peters says the division along party lines has been widening for the last few decades. The professor says it “reached a head” late in the Clinton administration, when the Republican-controlled Senate refused to vote on many candidates nominated by President Bill Clinton. Then, during President Bush’s first term when Democrats had a majority in the Senate, he says “it was payback time.” Peters says the cycle seems to be continuing, and though there’s kind of a stalemate right now he doesn’t think it’s been resolved. Peters says the next candidate named for a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court might be someone who’s a relative unknown. He says that’s the kind of candidate the White House likes, as “ever since Judge Bork presidents have been a little wary of appointing someone who has a long track record,” since that makes them easier to attack. Peters says a president’s looking for someone who’s “flying under the radar” since being a not-so-obvious candidate can make it harder to find negative things about that person. He says interest groups have files already on the most likely nominees and can mobilize to oppose them quickly. The panel on supreme court nominees was sponsored by UNI’s department of Political Science and the Daniel Webster Law Society.
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