It's no secret that media observers think Elena Kagan's confirmation hearings--and the confirmation hearings of any Supreme Court nominee, for that matter--can amount to meaningless noise. Garret Epps captured the vapidity of day one here. Josh Green, taking up the other side of the debate, makes a case here for why they do matter, but it's clear that a central part of the discussion over Supreme Court confirmation hearings has become whether or not there is any value to them whatsoever, particularly when a nominee is expected to be confirmed regardless of what is said, as is the case for Kagan.
"I am not sure the hearing benefits other than to give them a chance to say they'll do something other than what they actually plan on doing," said Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. "I don't think it's real helpful."Coburn charges that in recent opinions Justice Sonia Sotomayor contradicted pledges at her hearing last year to uphold the Second Amendment and avoid citing foreign law."You could never have told that from her testimony, but you could tell that from her decisions," he said. "We need to reassess how we do it."Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., a former Judiciary chairman, offered a similar view Tuesday, though his gripe lies more with the 2005 hearing testimony of Chief Justice Roberts."There's a lot of concern in the Senate about the value of these hearings," Specter said while expressing frustration with Kagan's caution. "When we have the kinds of declarations at that table [from] your predecessor ... nominees on deference to Congress, and then there's none given. ... And we wonder what we can do about it."
On the one hand, this seems to beg for some change in the process, when even its participants question its helpfulness. On the other, it's a bit comforting that at least two senators are in tune with what many people are saying.