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John Wayne's Holster: SCOTUS Confirmation Hearings = Pointless
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Wednesday, January 18, 2006

SCOTUS Confirmation Hearings = Pointless

What is the purpose of the Confirmation Hearings for Supreme Court nominees?

Nominees for the SCOTUS were not always brought before the Senate for public confirmation hearings. Initially, nominations were sent directly to the floor of the Senate for a debate. The first nominee to be brought forward for "hearings" was Harlan Fiske Stone in 1925. The Stone “hearings” were not really hearings at all, but rather a payback for an indictment he pushed forward against a colleague of a rival Senator.

Bona fide hearings did not take place until the nomination by FDR of Felix Frankfurter in 1939, but they were not made a permanent part of the nomination process. The Confirmation Hearings did not become a standard practice after after the Brown v. Board of Education Ruling in 1954, which outlawed racial segregation. Following this landmark ruling, segregationists in the Senate pushed to have hearings to make sure future nominees shared their “ideological vision”. The hearings have been a mainstay ever since.

Another event that played a major role in shaping the current format of the SCOTUS confirmation hearings was the hearings of Judge Robert Bork in 1987. Bork, a strong ideological conservative, represented a potential swing vote on a closely divided court. That fact did not escape the attention of left-leaning political interest groups. Senators opposed to Bork’s confirmation employed campaign-style tactics to attack his character, painting him as an out-of-touch judge harboring a warped judicial philosophy. Ultimately, Bork was rejected, and the character of the hearings was changed from that point on.

The hearings should be a forum in which Senators determine whether nominees possess the necessary qualifications and vision to serve on the SCOTUS. Unfortunately, that is no longer the case. Heeding the lessons from the Bork hearings, nominees now are careful not to reveal too much, if anything at all. Nominees all seemingly give the same rehearsed responses about how they “respect precedent”, will “keep an open mind”, and will decide cases according to the "rule of law”. Specific answers to direct questions are side-stepped by raising the potential that the issue in question may the focus of a future case – making it improper to state an opinion on the matter.

During the Senate Confirmation hearing for Samuel Alito, Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) suggested to the media that the hearings served little purpose and should be abandoned. I think he makes a valid point that is worth considering. Alternatively, the format of the hearings must be dramatically altered so that they serve their intended purpose – determining whether of not a nominee is qualified to serve on the Supreme Court. Currently, the hearings are nothing more that an opportunity for grandstanding by members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The hearings have become an empty ritual!


At 12:25 PM, Anonymous Roy said...

Your exactly right! While I was not aware of the history of the confirmation hearings, I watched the last 2 almost completely and it was nothing but a dog and pony show. I heard an idea to have a panel of 3 legal and constitutional scholars to question the candidates. That does not sound bad to me but certainly the Senators are justing wasting our time and money holding the hearings in its current format.


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