Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The Alito Confirmation Hearings

Following the scenes we witnessed during the confirmation hearings of Samuel Alito before the Senate Judiciary committee today, it is evident that some level of reform is needed in the process. The display today was nothing more than partisan politics gone widely awry coupled with blatant hostility on the parts of the Democratic Senators. The confirmation of a Supreme Court Justice had sadly devolved into partisan warfare with matters as trivial as the nominee's very brief association with a now defunct organization 34 years ago becoming the focal point of the whole day. The issues taken up by Democrats in attempting to derail the confirmation of Alito do not center on his views, his judicial philosophies, or anything related to what beliefs he holds concerning the U.S. Constitution. No, the Democrats are there to sling mud and launch the worst possible character assassinations against a man who, based on what is known, is one of integrity.

The problem here is the anger and madness liberals harbor against anything associated with a conservative agenda. I do not recall this kind of virulent criticism as it related to Clinton nominees in the 1990's who were each clearly leftist in their judicial leanings. However, when the current President offers a nominee who reflects a more conservative philosophy, which was seemingly validated by the 60 millions Americans who voted the Administration back for a second term, the Democrats act as though Bush was seeking to overturn the Constitution. Winning elections and being in the majority means that you get to nominate the Justices to fill Supreme Court vacancies. If the Democrats want to run the Senate, nominate and confirm judges who agree with their views then they should actually go out and win an election or two. That is how it is done in our political system, not by smearing good candidates with baseless attacks and not by usurping the powers of the Constitution by conducting filibusters of judges you do not happen to like. As it was so aptly put on the TV show The West Wing, "Being in power means everybody else can take a seat for four years."

As for the process itself, I think the time has come to remove some of the highly charged political elements from the confirmation of a Supreme Court Justice and make the hearings about judicial reasoning and Constitutional issues. It is clear that a Justice on the Supreme Court should be a judicial genius with a very complex understanding of the law and how the Constitution should be interpreted. The problem in the current process is that we have Senators who have little or no understanding of such issues testing the nominees it usually degenerates into a lot of dancing around the question by the nominee and bare bones political attacks from the Senators. In fact it is my estimation the nominees are usually ten times smarter than any one of the Senators on the committee and any discussion of law would be pointless since the Senators are incapable of keeping pace. Being nominated to the Supreme Court is the only job I know of where you are actually interviewed by people who are not qualified in the field in which you are seeking a position.

The solution to this broken system would be to maintain a portion of the current format, while adding a new wrinkle which would permit the nominee to really expound upon jurisprudence in all its complexity.

Day 1: Opening Statements-Senators still get to "sermonize" and the nominee can offer his views to open matters up.

Day 2: Senators ask questions being limited to 30 minutes apiece. If Senators so choose to give time to each other or what not that is fine. The purpose here is to keep the bloviation of certain Senatorial windbags down and actually focus on asking questions so the nominee can answer.

Day 3: Each party would pick 1-2 sitting Supreme Court Justices to come to the hearing and question the nominee. This particular wrinkle would have tremendous benefits. The first is the nominee can actually discuss his philosophies with people who actually are on the same level. If Stephen Breyer and Clarence Thomas were each posing questions and debating the finer points with Alito it would be far more enlightening as to what Alito actually believes. This also would force Presidents to make sure they sent a qualified person up there lest they get buried alive when it came time to face their potential future colleagues in a question and answer session. Senators would be allowed to interject to ask for clarifications but for the most part the Justices would quiz the nominee.

Day 4: Witnesses if needed, followed by closing statements

Day 5: Committee debate and then vote.

If the committee votes the nominee to the full Senate, the Senate then has three days to debate and then give the nominee an up or down vote. A filibuster would be wholly prohibited on all Supreme Court nominations. All told the hearings should take no more than 10 days to complete.

It is time politicians in Washington begin paying more attention to the actual issues involved in such matters at judicial nominations and strive to find a process which makes the nominee speak to his beliefs and philosophies. For all the hot air we get from Senators about the courts not being political places and how Justices should not be partisan or biased, they sure do a great job of making the process of confirming Justices exactly those things.

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