When the Founding Fathers were writing the U.S. Constitution in 1787, they engaged in lengthy debates over the authority and role of the president and Congress. Little time was given to the role and power of federal judges, yet those judges - including the Supreme Court - have in some ways become the dominant force among the three branches of government.
This is particularly true since some judges in recent decades have become prone to break new legal ground and make law as well as simply interpret it.As a result, it is becoming more and more the case that the most lasting legacy a president can leave is the appointments he makes to the federal bench - usually judges who share his political outlook.
This is not lost on Congress. The Senate, which must approve judges nominated by the president, is getting more difficult about rubber-stamping such appointments, particularly when the White House and the Senate are controlled by different parties.
The 100th Congress ended its session this month with 19 of President Reagan's court appointees still unconfirmed. Worse, the time it takes to clear a name through the Senate Judiciary Committee now averages 123 days - three times longer than before.
Sen. Joseph Biden Jr., D-Del., chairman of the committee, said the panel has sent a message to future presidents that investigations will go beyond the usual questions about character and competence. From now on, it will consider if a nominees views are "philosophically appropriate for the times."
Translated, that means a nominee who shares the same political or philosophical outlook as the party controlling the Judiciary Committee.
It's clear that President Reagan has been filling federal judgeships with nominees who share his conservative judicial views. His appointees now make up 384 of the 752 full-time federal judges - more than 51 percent.
As long as presidents have the right to nominate judges, political views will play a part. But when Congress departs from its traditional role and makes such nominations a partisan fight, it can only lead to further politicizing of the judicial system.