l PRESIDENT Bush has moved with considerable political skill in his choice of the little-known Judge John Roberts to succeed Justice Sandra Day O'Connor as a member of the Supreme Court. Judge Roberts will have to face US Senate approval hearings but is likely to survive them quite easily even though he was a legal adviser to the Bush team at the time of the contested Florida vote in the 2000 Presidential election. He is a moderate conservative whose views on abortion, one of the most contentious legal issues in the United States, are presumably determined by his Catholic religion. Mr Bush has therefore cheated his Democrat critics who hoped he would nominate a hard conservative over whose approval there could be a prolonged battle. Perhaps the President's choice reflects the problems he has encountered with several previous nominations for high office, some of which have not even got as far as Congressional approval even after he expressed total confidence in the person concerned. It is sometimes not understood in Europe just how important the US Supreme Court is in the playing out of American politics. The nine-justice court is so central to the US sytem of government that a vacancy at any time is a major event. In this case, however, it is the first nomination to the Court in eleven years and in addition it is to replace Justice O'Connor, also a moderate conservative, who became the swing voter on many crucial issues, not least the validity of Mr Bush's own election in 2000. Therefore, if he is approved by the US Senate to replace Justice O'Connor, Judge Roberts may become the determining voice on the Supreme Court on issues affecting millions of American, such as abortion, race relations and religion, which divide the other eight judges evenly. Prsident Bush has been wise to avoid confrontation on this nomination.
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