Seven years ago, in a study of the Senate’s constitutional mandate to provide “advice and consent” in the selection of Supreme Court justices, the University of Chicago’s Geoffrey Stone wrote that the process was “chaotic, divisive, arbitrary, dishonest, insulting, polarizing, and damaging to the public’s confidence in both the Senate and the judiciary.” The worst was yet to come.
Although Americans disagree strongly on Brett Kavanaugh’s fitness to serve, there’s no doubt that his path to confirmation was an embarrassment for the Senate. The recent hearings will be remembered for the virtually complete breakdown of competent, credible inquiry: severe limitations on the number of witnesses, rounds of questioning limited to five minutes per senator, an outside counsel restricted in the same fashion and then effectively relieved of her duties midday. Perhaps most disturbing was the absence of any agreement among senators about the relevance of the hearing to their duty to “advise and consent” on the nomination. Some committee members seemed to think that their responsibility was to establish burdens of proof and to define the appropriate measure of due process in a law-type adjudication of conflicting claims. Others argued for considering the testimony and investigative record more broadly in judging the nominee’s fitness for a seat on the Supreme Court.