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The confirmation process in the US

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Our main interest is the laws in St. Vincent and the Grenadines but sometimes there are issues discussed on the television that generate interest. For the last two weeks you have heard quite a great deal of the confirmation process for Justice John Glover Roberts, now Chief Justice of the United States of America. I guess you have even wondered how our own Chief Justice is chosen. Our process is certainly not as elaborate and is not as widely publicized as the Americans’. The Heads of nine Governments in the Eastern Caribbean hold discussions and appoint our Chief Justice. Our Chief Justice is chosen from the existing Justices of the Appeal.{{more}}

The highest court in the United States is the United States Supreme Court which is situated in Washington DC. It is comprised of nine judges who serve during “good behaviour,” that is, for life. The judges are nominated by the president in office and confirmed by the United States Senate through a process of “advice and consent”. The Senate is one of the branches of Congress, the other being the House of Representatives. There are one hundred senators, two of whom are chosen from each state.

The nominee must undergo a process of intense interrogation by members of the Senate to determine his/her suitability. The nominee’s credentials are very important but the Senate would decide whether or not he/she is a fit person for that office. They are generally able to elicit the nominee’s opinion on issues such as civil rights and liberties, the rights to privacy, religion among others. Only 12 nominees have been explicitly rejected in the history of the Supreme Court. Many of you would remember the stormy confirmation process for Justice Clarence Thomas but he was confirmed. The president can withdraw the nominee or the Senate can refuse to vote. In other words, they can use the filibuster, that is, delay with long speeches and refuse to vote. John Roberts dodged some important questions but he came through the process with flying colours.

The result of the vote to confirm Chief Justice John Roberts was 78 to 22. Fifty Republicans, twenty two of the forty four Democrats and one independent voted in favour of the Chief Justice. Unlike the former Chief Justice, William Rehnquist who was elevated to the highest position after serving previously as an associate judge, Justice John Roberts was not an associate judge in the Supreme Court.

President Bush repeatedly advised that his aim is to nominate persons who would not “legislate on the bench but would interpret the constitution.” In short, he is of the opinion that legislation must be done by the legislators, that is, the United States Congress and the judges should confine themselves to the job for which they were appointed, that is, to interpret the constitution and laws. He is convinced that his nominee would be an excellent judge.

The United States Supreme Court has an important role to play as its decisions affect the lives of millions of people. It is because of this that so much interest is shown in the judges. There are both conservative and liberal judges in the Supreme Court. Sandra Day O’Connor who recently retired from the Court was more of a centralist. She angered conservatives with her tie- breaking votes. She voted against abortion restrictions, campaign finance limits, discrimination laws and religion. Americans are divided into “pro choice” and “pro life” groups on the issue of abortion. There are many who would like to see the 1973 landmark case of Roe v Wade legalizing abortion, abolished.

There has been another nomination. We will watch the next session.

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