When all is said and done, Jay, I’m not sure either one of us learned what we wanted to from the hearings. Many issues were discussed ad nauseum; others virtually untouched. (The Washington Post did any excellent analysis of this in its print edition on Sunday). I was impressed by Judge Sotomayor’s demeanor, even when she was being asked endless variations of questions she had pretty much disposed of in her brief initial statement. When you and I give speeches or have debates at colleges or on television, we use a kind of language which is more direct, more ideological, and more “human” than what we might write in a judicial opinion in the unlikely event that either one of us ever becomes a judge on anything but a reality show. This difference is not one of substance, but of style– which is all that remarks like “a wise Latina woman” ever were.
There were obvious “set up” questions by Democratic Senators–or at least questions which they must have known Judge Sotomayor’s White House advisers had prepped her to answer. There were also obvious efforts by Republican Senators to trip her up using carefully prepared queries from ideological staffers and, I’ll bet, some outside interest groups as well. This is pretty much what Supreme Court hearings have become. It does not change much whether the candidate is a choice of a President Bush or a President Obama.
Some, like columnist Steve Chapman, have suggested that nominees shouldn’t even be called to appear
before such hearings, but that would seem to make the constitutional
mandate to give “advise and consent” by the Senate even more difficult
to achieve. However, I see what such critics are getting at: that the
process of information gathering at the hearings is so stilted and the
comments of outside groups so predictable that the highlights of the
events seem to be tangents. Samuel Alito’s wife leaving the hearing
room in tears or the interchange between Senator Jeff Sessions and my
former colleague Wade Henderson about cocaine become more memorable
than the incessant repetitive questions and answers by the Senators.
There ought to be a better way to do this. I will again plug my friend Christopher Eisgruber’s excellent new book The Next Justice; its a good start.