Those Lame Supreme Court Confirmation Hearings

If SCOTUS confirmation hearings are useless, then what should we do about it? Notes on a shoddy process and how to improve it.

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David S. Broder of the Washington Post thinks that Supreme Court confirmation hearings are pretty useless. He writes today, "The antiseptic hearings and the near-party-line vote illustrate the two great failings of the modern confirmation process. [...] The nominees have become less and less informative, not daring to repeat [defeated SCOTUS nominee Robert] Bork's mistake of actually arguing for his view of fundamental legal issues."

He is not alone. In last week's New Yorker, Jeffrey Toobin described the refusal of nominees to discuss anything substantive as "stonewalling," writing, "The fact that Judge Sotomayor managed to avoid discussing any of this throughout four days of testimony is indicative of the way the confirmation process, as it is now designed, misleads the public about what it is that Justices do." Michael Crowley of the New Republic was so bored by the unsubstantive hearings that he called them "like Project Runway, only with uglier models."

Even before the hearings, The Atlantic's Bob Cohn called for the hearings to be halted altogether: "Enough," he wrote. "Nominees to the Supreme Court should not appear before Congress. They should not meet with members of the Judiciary Committee for chitchat about their amazing life stories and how they'll vote on Roe. They should give the committee copies of their past speeches and writings, their prior rulings, their tax filings, and their Twitter nicknames. Then they should get out of Washington and wait for confirmation."

Back in the Senate, two high-ranking members have some ideas on how to spice things up. In Broder's column today, Senators Patrick Leahy and Lindsay Graham said that "a partial remedy lies in asking the nominees how they reached their conclusions in past cases or administrative rulings and gauging their approach to the law from their answers." Also, they said they try even harder to "exploit their private meetings with nominees in their offices, before formal hearings begin." Convinced? Broder offers only this mild endorsement: "If their examples spread, we might avert the ugly partisanship of recent confirmation fights."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.