Thursday, January 12, 2006

Scrapping the Hearings

Finally, a sensible idea about confirmation hearings:

Supreme Court nominees are so mum about the major legal issues at their Senate confirmation hearings that the hearings serve little purpose and should probably be abandoned, Democratic Sen. Joe Biden said Thursday.

"The system's kind of broken," said Biden, a member of the Judiciary Committee considering the nomination of Judge Samuel Alito.

"Nominees now, Democrat and Republican nominees, come before the United States Congress and resolve not to let the people know what they think about the important issues," such as a president's authority to go to war, said Biden.

As the committee headed into its fourth day of hearings on the Alito nomination, Biden told NBC's "Today" show that a better solution might be to skip hearings and send nominations straight to the Senate floor for a vote.

"Just go to the Senate floor and debate the nominee's statements," the Delaware senator said, "instead of this game."

That was once standard practice. Until 1925, Supreme Court nominees were not expected to testify before a committee, and their nominations were sent straight to the floor, according to the Senate Historical Office.

Given the way the hearings are currently conducted, that would be an improvement. If a process that is supposed to reveal information does not reveal information, then by all means, don't waste everyone's time. However, it would be fairly straightforward to fix the system. It would just take bipartisan agreement that any nominee who failed to answer questions of the form:
In recent case X, which of the opinions offered do you believe to be the best legal reasoning and why?

would not be voted out of the Judiciary committee. That question is completely legitimate--it places prospective petitioners before the Court at no disadvantage, since sitting Justices have had to answer the same questions and write those opinions.


Arun Khanna said...

I propose a Judiciary sub-committee with members from both houses which holds closed door hearings. Public hearings create incentives for politicians to play to the gallery.

Al DeVito said...

Mr. Khana makes a good point. These and earlier hearings, by and large, demonstrate the low quality representation we are getting. Some of these senators don't appear to have the qualifications or intelligence to be dog catcher.

aidan maconachy said...

It was amusing watching Ted Kennedy take Sam Alito on around ethics issues. What could be more ironical than a legendary skirt chasing, alcohol fuelled bon vivant demanding ethical clarifications from a family man who actually works for a living.

The whole CAP fuss was a storm in a tea cup. The Rusher papers were examined in detail by a reporter from the NY Times and there was no evidence of any document with Alito's name signed in blood alongside weird esoteric symbols.

Fact is Teddy was a member of an all-male club called OWL when he was at Harvard, and his personal conduct yeilds scant evidence of deference to women's rights, let alone needs.

The roles should really have been reversed. Sam Alito should have been grilling the Boston Doboy on his fitness to be Senator.

Roland Patrick said...

That's major league chutzpah on Biden's part, given that it was he who contributed so much to breaking the system with his chairmanship during the Clarence Thomas hearings. Going so far as to allow obvious perjury on the part of Anita Hill and Susan Hoerschner.

Robert Schwartz said...

If you watched the hearings, it was clear that the Senators wanted to talk a lot more than they wanted to listen.

Kent said...

I think the hearings are tremendously valuable. They show the American people what kind of folks are running their government. I can't think of a better demonstration of why we need limited government.

Attila said...

Alito produced 15 years' worth of decisions, all in writing, all capable of being evaluated. Not necessarily objectively; a lot of partisan hackery was involved. But the hearings added nothing except providing material for people like me to mock the participants. Against my own interests, I vote for abolishing them.