Why do the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee think they’re qualified to cross-examine a Supreme Court nominee effectively?
They aren’t—they just can’t bear to give up airtime. But if they’re honest enough to admit it, they have an alternative. Even though they’re in the minority, they’re fully allowed to hire their own counsel. They ought to retain a professional to do the job.
When Brett Kavanaugh takes center stage this week in his confirmation hearings on Capitol Hill, many Republican senators won’t bother to ask anything tough. A year ago, when Neil Gorsuch—President Donald Trump’s first Supreme Court appointment—was before them, they discussed such pap as mutton busting, Gorsuch’s pet goat Nibbles, and (thank you, Senator Ben Sasse) “how in the world is Gorsuch able to go so many hours at a time without peeing.” (The nominee of course declined to answer the last.) They would have voted to confirm Gorsuch if he’d been comatose at the hearings—and the same will likely be true for Kavanaugh. Except for the pleasure of hearing their own voices, Republicans will be content to ask nothing at all. So the last thing they want is an accomplished interrogator.
Democrats have no such excuse, and even though they’re in the minority they’re fully allowed to hire their own counsel—one lawyer for all of them. Most Senate Democrats will oppose Kavanaugh because they legitimately suppose he will drive the Court further to the right. A few would vote down any nominee, in retaliation for how the GOP in 2016 obstructed Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama’s pick to fill the seat formerly held by Justice Antonin Scalia. If the past is a guide, though, the senators will be inept at establishing a principled case against Kavanaugh. They haven’t mastered the art of eliciting information from an uncooperative witness or so exposing his reticence that it becomes embarrassing.