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Thursday, July 14, 2005 12:51 am

“The right temperament”

As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Dick Durbin plays a role in deciding who will succeed retiring Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. But, as a combative leader of the minority party in the U.S. Senate, how big a role that will be is unclear.  

That’s why Durbin says he was surprised to receive a call last week from White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, soliciting suggestions on potential nominees.

Illinois’ senior senator won’t say whose names he offered, but he does say that he recommended candidates who should appeal to both Democrats and Republicans.

“We expect the president to submit the name of a conservative. We’re hoping it will be a conservative like Sandra Day O’ Connor,” Durbin says, “someone who keeps an open mind and looks at issues and tries to take a balanced approach — not too far to the left and not too far to the right.”

Right now, an odds-on favorite in Washington, not to mention Las Vegas, is Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, whose name has been floating as a potential high-court nominee since even before he took over as American’s top cop in February.

At the time, Gonzales was a controversial choice. Critics, including Durbin, accused the president’s nominee, then White House chief counsel, of creating the legal environment that fostered prisoner abuse at Guantánamo Bay and Abu Ghraib.

Does this mean that we can expect a fight from Durbin — one of 36 senators to vote against Gonzales’ nomination — should President George W. Bush offer an objectionable appointee? Although Durbin says that it’s not out of the question, he is hesitant to filibuster a Supreme Court nominee “unless it’s a person who’s clearly out of the mainstream of American thinking.”

Durbin says that a good Supreme Court justice needs to have the basics: “No. 1, the person has to be honest, no ethics problems. Secondly, they have to be legally skilled. Third, they have to have the right temperament to serve in the federal court, which is a lifetime appointment.

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