Picking Judges With Dispatch

It's unlikely that Tuesday's elections will hand over filibuster-proof control of the Senate to Republicans. In anticipation of that, President Bush recently proposed a way to break the political logjam in the Senate over its duty to approve or reject a president's nominees for the federal bench.

Mr. Bush's frustration with the tar-like process is similar to that of his predecessors. He's right that the problem is a matter of a "poisoned and polarized atmosphere" in which well-qualified nominees are not given an up or down vote. Some nominees have waited a year just for a hearing.

This stalemate has led to a shortage of judges and thus long delays in the dispensing of justice.

The president's proposal is to set up a timetable for action: Judges would give a one-year notice before retirement, and then the president would nominate a replacement within 180 days. A committee hearing on the nominee and a full Senate vote would take place within another 180 days.

All nominees, controversial or not, would be subject to the same rules. And all parties, and ultimately, the American people, would benefit if this proposal, or some version of it, were accepted by the three branches.

At root is a growing assumption most judges can't help being political in their decisions and therefore must be screened for their political views and rejected if they don't toe a particular line. That's driven in part by Congress letting more social issues be decided in the courts rather than in Congress.

The concept of blind justice, or of a judge's neutrality in a socially charged case, needs defending in Washington's increasingly bitter politics. Courts can't be expected to act as a rubber-stamp for the ruling political party, with no commitment to the principles of the Constitution.

The president's timetable could force both parties to take their responsibility to justice more seriously.

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