Among the most serious constitutional duties entrusted to Congress is the confirmation of Supreme Court Justices. As President Obama prepares to announce his first nominee to the nation's highest court, this is a good time to consider the vital role played by the Court in our system of government and in Americans' everyday lives.
Through recent, narrowly decided cases, we have seen clearly the Supreme Court's impact on ordinary Americans.
In Ledbetter v. Goodyear, we saw the Court undermine the intent of Congress by giving immunity to employers who covertly discriminate against their workers. The 5 to 4 decision struck a severe blow to the rights of working families across the country, and it sent a signal to corporations that discriminatory behavior, if kept in the shadows, would never be punished. In contrast, the Court's 5-4 decision earlier this year in Wyeth v. Levine rejected an anti-consumer position adopted by the Executive Branch during the last administration, and upheld strong state laws designed to protect consumers.
Both these cases, and many others, have far-reaching effects on the ability of Americans to seek justice in their courts. The closeness of the Ledbetter and Wyeth decisions makes clear that the stakes on the nation's top bench are very real.
I have encouraged President Obama, as I did his predecessor, to consider qualified nominees from all walks of life, from every corner of our nation, and from diverse backgrounds. I hope that he will look outside the "judicial monastery" as he considers nominees. I would like to see a Justice with real life experience, gained outside the confines of federal appellate court chambers.
I am looking for the President to pick a Justice who approaches every case with an open mind, and a commitment to fairness. I want a Justice who recognizes the importance of the words engraved in Vermont marble over the entrance to the Supreme Court: "Equal Justice Under Law." I want a Justice who will keep faith with our core constitutional values of personal freedom.
I want a Justice who will make decisions based on the law and the Constitution. Politics and ideological agendas have no place on the nation's highest court, or anywhere in our federal judiciary. Activist judges - from the right or the left - who substitute their judgment for that which is written in our national charter and in our nation's laws undermine the protections for ordinary Americans provided in our Constitution.
Now more than ever, while the country is in the throes of an economic recession, and fighting to strengthen our economic and national security, Americans are looking to Washington for leadership and cooperation. The President is consulting with Republican and Democratic and Senators alike on this most important of nominations. This is an opportunity for this Senate to further the spirit of bipartisanship Americans want, and to confirm and impartial, fair-minded Justice to the Supreme Court.
The interests of all Americans are at stake.
By Patrick Leahy
Special to CBSNews.com