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Roberts deserves top court post Judge played it right, and Bush will get chief justice he wants

U.S. chief justice nominee John Roberts testified in confirmation hearings this week practically and acceptably, virtually assuring his approval by the Senate. He is a decent choice for a critical job, with potential to grow into a superb Supreme Court justice.

Roberts repeatedly declined to define his position on the most prominent issue on the Judiciary Committee's political agenda: abortion. America would be looking at a fool for chief justice if he had. Not even the abortion rights advocacy groups demanding he answer that question can be naive enough to expect he would, and his demurral is both reasonable and traditional. Judgeship nominees at all levels -- including, famously, Ruth Bader Ginsburg during her confirmation hearings -- rightly avoid playing politics on specific issues likely to come before their courts.

In a measured, polite and generally unruffled performance, Roberts declined to be pinned down on several other issues as well, largely confining himself to general discussions of legal philosophy. That's appropriate.

The bottom line is that Roberts is the conservative nominee of a conservative president to replace an ultra-conservative chief justice. The real test of court balance may well come not in this nomination, but in the future one President Bush will submit to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

In the meantime, Roberts offered assurances that he roots his law in the Constitution, recognizes the role of the legislative branch, respects legal precedents and expects to apply his intellect to the specific questions put before him. During the confirmation process he performed -- for lack of a better word -- judiciously. Give him the job.

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