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Beyond World Cup soccer savvy, US should look to South Africa on Supreme Court nominations

International guidance helped strengthen US soccer. It could improve the US Supreme Court nomination process, too.

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Moreover, nominees are viewed as esteemed lawyers or judges, not simply as political allies.

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Several other nations, and even a few US states, successfully use a similar approach. The US federal government should follow suit. It would enhance the US Supreme Court’s stature. It also would be consistent with Obama’s promise of bipartisanship.

Making the change would not even require a constitutional amendment. The commission could be established by federal law, and some of its members could serve limited terms. As the US Constitution requires, the president would still nominate the justice, and there could still be hearings in the Senate, but the hearings should become pro forma.

A question might arise as to whether it is legal for the sitting judges and legislative officers to play consulting roles in the judicial appointment process. Yet since their roles would be purely advisory, and since the Supreme Court has ruled that judges can be involved in a sentencing revision commission, it seems unlikely this objection would succeed.

In South Africa, justices can serve up to 12 years. This is the equivalent of two full terms in the US Senate, so implementing term limits, which would appear to require a constitutional amendment, might be a good idea to ensure the president looks for the most qualified justice, not a relatively young one.

Adopting term limits for judges, as well as changing the entire selection process, would be as radical as when the US Soccer Federation reluctantly adopted FIFA standards for rules and calculating league standings. Then, that change was met with its fair share of resistance. But it led to the US hosting the 1994 World Cup, establishing a major soccer league, and strengthening its national teams to contender status on the eve of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

If that nation can be a showplace for America on the largest world sports stage of all, it could also serve as an example to an improved Supreme Court confirmation process.

Mark Kende is a constitutional law professor and the director of the Drake University Constitutional Law Center. He is the author of “Constitutional Rights in Two Worlds, South Africa and the United States.”

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