Richard Rogers isn't so sure he could be named to the federal bench these days.
Rogers, a senior federal judge based in Topeka, had a long track record in politics before joining the court in 1975 as an appointee of President Gerald Ford. And some of that record indicated a support for abortion rights.
"In those days, those one-issue things were not as important as they are today," said Rogers, a 1948 graduate of Kansas University School of Law, on the second day of hearings for Judge John Roberts in his quest to become chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Rogers added: "I think (the nomination process) has changed for the worse."
But others aren't so sure.
Judge John Lungstrum is chief judge for the U.S. District Court in Kansas. He said his own nomination, in 1991, came at the same time Clarence Thomas was being grilled by the U.S. Senate about sexual harassment allegations during his Supreme Court nomination hearings.
"I've run into (Justice Thomas) a couple of times over the years and thanked him for running interference," said Lungstrum, also a KU law school graduate. "He doesn't see quite the humor in it I do."
By contrast, Lungstrum said, his own hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee was a low-key affair. Only two senators - one Republican, one Democrat - showed up. Lungstrum was quizzed along with two other judicial nominees from other states.
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"They had some very softball questions, I would say, that were not at all probing or confrontational," he said of the senators. "Pretty perfunctory."
He said politics applied mainly to appellate and Supreme Court nominees. But Deanell Tacha, the Lawrence-based chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit, said her confirmation in 1985 wasn't too difficult.
"It only lasted about an hour," she said of her hearing before the committee. "The whole process was reasonably fast compared to what these current-day nominees go through."
As for the political dimensions of the process, Tacha said: "I felt that I was treated quite fairly on all sides."
Michael Comiskey, a political science professor at Penn State Fayette, is the author of a new book from University Press of Kansas, "Seeking Justices: The Judging of Supreme Court Nominees." He disagreed with critics who say the nomination process is too political.
"There's nothing in the Constitution that makes the Senate a lesser partner in the appointment process," Comiskey said, "so if the president chooses a nominee on the basis of ideology, then it's the Senate's job to check-and-balance that."
The political process doesn't guarantee certain political results. After all, Comiskey said, it was a Republican-dominated Supreme Court that recognized gay rights and flag burning.
"Their rulings were all over the place," Comiskey said. "They've done a lot of things conservatives have liked, and a lot of things conservatives haven't."
Comiskey will join other panelists to discuss the battle for the Supreme Court during a seminar at 8 p.m. Thursday in the Dole Institute of Politics, 2530 Petefish Drive.