22 May 2006

Much Ado about Nothing

Now that Samuel Alito Jr. has officially been confirmed as the 110th Supreme Court justice, it is time to rethink whether the hearings serve any useful purpose. The Judiciary Committee hearing process should be abandoned. Hearings have only been held since 1925, just after the notorious Teapot Dome scandal. Since then, most nominees have sailed through their hearings and were confirmed. That is until 1987, when President Ronald Reagan nominated Robert Bork, which subsequently turned into one of the most partisan confirmation hearings ever.

There are two good reasons to discontinue the process.

There is no law or constitutional obligation requiring the nominee to testify. Only two events need to occur in order for a Supreme Court nominee to be put in office. The first is being nominated by the President. The second is garnering a majority vote in the Senate. Nothing else is needed.

The hearing process has evolved into a reality show for Senators to show off. As entertaining as Senators Ted Kennedy and Joseph Biden were, many people would argue that their time would have been better spent asking short concise questions. Rather, they seemed to view it as a campaign opportunity.

Although I’ve listed three reasons why the hearings should be abandoned, there are reasons for continuing the process.

Perhaps the best argument one can make for the continuation of the hearings is that it gives Senators an opportunity to see how a prospective judge will rule in a case. However, this goes against the American Bar Associations Code of Judicial Conduct which bars nominees from pre-judging cases . . . even if they are simply scenarios. Alito has been blamed for being evasive during the hearings. However, for him to answer would have been inappropriate.

I recommend that the nominee go before the full Senate for two days of questioning. With a third day set aside for debate among the Senate followed by an up-or-down vote. All 100 Senators would ask just one question with the nominee having a set time to answer. I think this would save all parties lots of time and greatly simplify the process.

Thoughts anyone???

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