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Impartiality on the Supreme Court

By: Senator John Thune

July 23, 2010

Mark Twain once remarked in a letter that Supreme Court justices "have the Constitution for their guidance; they have no right to any politics save the politics of rigid right and justice when they are sitting in judgment upon the great matters that come before them."

Twain's comments illustrate and underscore the importance of judicial impartiality on the Supreme Court. Although Nineteenth Century politics were very different from the politics of today, the standard for potential Supreme Court justices is as old as the court: prospective jurists must leave their political leanings and ideology behind when they don their robes.

Recently, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee voted 13 to 6 to approve Solicitor General Elena Kagan's Supreme Court nomination, and the full Senate will soon consider her nomination to fill the seat of Justice John Paul Stevens, who announced earlier this year that he will step down from the Court.

Prior to the Judiciary Committee's vote, I had the opportunity to sit down and speak with Ms. Kagan. After meeting with her and carefully reviewing the testimony she gave to the Judiciary Committee, I ultimately determined that I cannot support Ms. Kagan's confirmation to the nation's highest court.

I am primarily concerned with the limited record available of Ms. Kagan's judicial temperament. Her liberal ideology, which has been readily apparent throughout her career, combined with her lack of practical legal experience, is of great concern for me. Without this experience-or any record of impartiality in the courtroom-there is simply no evidence to prove that Ms. Kagan will exhibit that rigid faithfulness to the letter of the law that Twain described and is needed for any Supreme Court justice.