Topic: Politics

Senator Russ Feingold
(September 2005)

The Indianapolis Star notes that all the presumptive Democratic presidential hopefuls in the Senate, save one, are voting against John Roberts’ nomination as the next Supreme Court Chief Justice. The exception is Wisconsin’s Feingold. Normally, voting for an undeniably qualified presidential nominee would not entitle one to Ethics Hero status. But these are strange times.

The Democratic senators who have announced their opposition to Roberts have done so in conscious disregard both for the long-established criteria for Supreme Court nominee confirmation and in willful distortion of a judge’s duty. “How a judge feels” about issues like abortion, affirmative action and religion are, or should be, absolutely irrelevant to that judge’s evaluation of the law in a given case. It is true that some judges, notably retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, do not follow this approach. That doesn’t make it any less valid.

Columnist Richard Cohen, who any frequent visitor to The Scoreboard knows is not revered here for his ethics acumen, declares that “why Roberts could not tell us in general what he thinks of, say, the government’s right to send people abroad to be interrogated (or tortured)” is “beyond” him. It’s really not that puzzling, R.C.: why would a nominee answer a question that is clearly designed to create opposition to his nomination when the question in fact has absolutely nothing to do with the job under discussion? That’s right: what Roberts thinks “in general” about anything is not germane to his duties as a judge. Cases involve specific facts that require Supreme Court rulings precisely because they don’t neatly fit in a “general” rule. O.K….Cohen’s only a newspaper columnist, and perhaps we should excuse the fact that the man can’t distinguish the role of a Supreme Court Justice from that of, well, a newspaper columnist, whose job is to metaphorically shoot off his mouth according to what he “feels” about anything under the sun. But we shouldn’t excuse law makers like anti-Roberts Senators Clinton, Biden, and Bayh, who are supposed to understand that a good judge decides cases according to law, not “feelings.”

And, sad to say, they probably do understand. This is why their decision to vote against a judge who is generally acknowledged to be brilliant, honest, experienced, temperate and qualified to an extraordinary degree is especially craven and lacking in integrity. They are voting this way, it seems clear, purely to ensure future support from core Democratic supporters who hail from the outer fringes of rabid interest groups for whom the simple fact that Roberts was appointed by a President they despise is sufficient justification to reject him. Theirs is play-ground level reasoning that high elected officials should not only distain, but distain loudly. But among the Senate presidential hopefuls only Feingold, a liberal Wisconsin Democrat, has the integrity and courage to apply fair and historical confirmation criteria and do the right thing.

That’s the stuff Ethics Heroes are made of. Unfortunately for Feingold and the rest of us, history indicates that successful presidential candidates have significantly different ingredients.

Comment on this article


Business & Commercial
Sports & Entertainment
Government & Politics
Science & Technology
Professions & Institutions

The Ethics Scoreboard, ProEthics, Ltd., 2707 Westminster Place, Alexandria, VA 22305
Telephone: 703-548-5229    E-mail: ProEthics President

© 2007 Jack Marshall & ProEthics, Ltd     Disclaimers, Permissions & Legal Stuff    Content & Corrections Policy