How Supreme Court Confirmations Became Political Theater | NYT News


“Please raise
your right hand.” These are the Supreme Court
confirmation hearings — “This is day two.” — you’re probably
all familiar with. “Bigly.” “You just said ‘bigly.’” “Bigly.” Big partisan productions — “A charade and
a mockery.” “Anything else you want
to say, Judge Bork?” — that dominate the
headlines and the airwaves. This is how they used to be. [crickets] Yeah, there actually
weren’t any. So how did we
get from here — [crickets] — to here? We’ll start in 1937 with
former Senator Hugo Black, who’s being congratulated. That’s because
he’s just been confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice. He’s also been outed
as a former member of the Ku Klux Klan. So to explain himself,
he gets on the radio. “I did join the Klan. I later resigned. I never rejoined.” People are not happy. They’re basically asking:
How could the Senate Judiciary Committee
let this guy through? Answer: Since the first hearing
back in 1873, for this guy, there were no standard
ways of holding hearings for Supreme Court nominees. They didn’t have
to go and testify, and the hearings didn’t
need to be made public. The senators reviewed the
nominees among themselves. But then came a
couple of amendments to the Constitution. The upshot is they gave more
voting power to the people. So the senators needed to
start paying more attention to public opinion. And they’re paying
attention when Black’s controversial
confirmation drives Americans to ask: Why
are these hearings private? It’s a big reason why the
next nominee to come along gets a public hearing. And it’s not just
a public hearing, it’s the first
that includes no-holds-barred questioning
by the committee. Things are
beginning to change. Then World War II
comes, and goes. America is suddenly
a superpower. Business booms,
suburbs grow. “The protest took the
form of a boycott.” And we see the beginning of
the modern civil-rights era. In 1954, the court rules
to end racial segregation in schools. And this marks a
point where we really start to see the court
using its power to shape parts of American society. That means Americans
take a greater interest in who is on the court. That means even more
pressure on senators to vet these candidates. Starting with the first nominee
after the Brown decision, almost every nominee
will have a public hearing. Now change is in full swing. “I Have a Dream,” the
march from Selma, “The Feminine Mystique.” The court keeps making
controversial rulings on race discrimination,
gender discrimination, personal privacy. That means more
public interest, more pressure on
senators, more issues to parse in the hearings. So the hearings get longer. But just wait. 1981 — game changer. “Good evening. Sandra O’Connor —” First woman nominated
to the Supreme Court, first nomination
hearing to be televised. The longer senators talk,
the more TV time they get. The more TV time
they get, the more they can posture for
voters watching at home. [senators talking] So the more they talk. With the cameras rolling,
we’ll see 10 out of the 12
longest hearings ever. One of those is
for Robert Bork — “With a negative
recommendation of 9 to 5.” — who famously
doesn’t make the cut. Now onto the aughts. There’s an 11-year gap
between nominees. Meanwhile, America has become
more politically divided, so has the Senate. “Over and over again —” “Wait just a second —” “How many times do we do
this before —” Here’s Chief Justice Roberts
to explain what happened next. “I mean, you look at two of
my colleagues, Justice Scalia and Justice Ginsburg,
for example. Maybe there were two or
three dissenting votes between the two of them.” Yep, three votes against
Ginsburg in 1993. No votes against
Scalia in 1986. “Now you look at my
more recent colleagues and the votes were, I think,
strictly on party lines.” That’s pretty much right. “And that doesn’t
make any sense.” And that’s how we got here. “I’m not looking to take
us back to quill pens.” Very long — “Nah, I just asked you where
you were at on Christmas.” [laughter] Always very political — “So your failure to answer
questions is confounding me.” — very public Supreme Court
confirmation hearings. Also, something else to notice:
Sometimes these nominees give pretty similar answers. “The right to
privacy is protected under the Constitution
in various ways.” “And it protects the right to
privacy in a number of ways.” “In various places
in the Constitution.” “In a variety of places
in the Constitution.” “It’s protected by
the Fourth Amendment.” “The Fourth Amendment
certainly speaks to the right of privacy.” “It’s founded in the
Fourth Amendment.” “The first and
most obvious place is the Fourth Amendment.”

15 Responses

  1. Christopher Dittrich says:

    Why is my recommended list suddenly filled with all this US nonsense? I don't care for the US, i don't care for trump and I care even less for this joke of a political system. Get your algorithm right youtube for f's sake!

  2. ROXEY says:

    Did you see the Texas doctors watching people in line to go in being paid cash and told to start screaming right from the beginning and to get arrested. This is why the hearings are a CIRCUS!

  3. the last wild one says:

    The supreme court has been busy overturning the will of the MAJORTY as fast as they can for the last 40 years! Of course NOW WE know the right wing CONs have been stealing elections for at least the last 30 years maybe longer who knows???

  4. the last wild one says:

    If these MOFOs really are supreme and they say that law is not legal then they should also have to tell US why it's not and how we could fix it! if we want to! WHY do they NOT have the supreme corporatist look at the law before they pass it and get their OK on it! Just think how much time and money that would save!!!

  5. oil9vinergar says:

    you bellyaching Marxists just unhappy that fewer bellyaching Marxists are sitting… get rid the bellyaching Marxists still left….

  6. g00gle WEARELEGION says:

    Nice piece . News worth watching .

  7. t00by00zer says:

    Why political theater? Because Democrats rely on the court to pass laws that the people do not support.

  8. Liberty says:

    Obama gets into office, i was down for a day.
    Trump gets into office, leftists go wild over everything trump related.
    Cant you guys just calm down and behave the way i did?

  9. Eric Franklin says:

    Presenting the fact that the last several Supreme Court nominees were voted for along party lines should surprise no one. What changed there was that the Republicans decided to do 3 things. First is to be as obstructionist as possible, second is to nominate INCREDIBLY controversial judges, not just because of their stance on abortion or voting rights, but because they were so pro-corporate it was alarming (Gorsuch essentially ruled that a worker should have frozen to death in his car because his boss said he shouldn't leave his truck which was without heating, Kavanaugh on the other hand ruled that a worker at Sea World should have the expectation that they would die and thus should have no workers protections and yea that was the case Blackfish was based on) and that stance would make it terrible for working Americans and further benefit the rich as Republicans have done for the last almost 2 decades, third was to throw out the rule book making it more likely people would vote against because of the fact that they weren't even willing to follow normal protocol. Republican politicians in congress should be ashamed of themselves for how much they are destroying America and in my opinion they should be thrown in jail given how they are knowingly doing such harm just for their own benefit or the short term gain of their donors.

  10. Cat Lubber says:

    How did the NYT become a sensational, deep state tabloid? Now that is a story.

  11. libsrtraitors says:

    Paid Soros operatives disrupting the republic.

  12. Tobias Forge says:

    Republicans vote to confirm based on qualifications … Democrats obstruct the qualified and confirm the ones least likely to follow the Constitution.

  13. World's Netizen says:

    It's a joke for a lifetime judge who might work in the supreme court for at least 50 years didn't answer any hypothetical question in his/her confirmation hearings. Sounds like he's more fit for working in the past 50 years, not in the future. Coz we are living in a more and more fast-paced changing/developing world, the questions of the past and present most likely do not fully represent what we will be faced in the future. Say, cyberspace security problems, personal activities on social media platforms, such as Alex Jones and people died because of internet-bully, or some sort of problems about ai, robots. Not to mention, he did dodge and ambiguous answer some sensitive questions about Trump.

    Trump supporters said that "it's not as answering a hypothetical could cause perceived biases in the future by plaintiffs."

    the thing is "hypothetical' means it can't be certain at the time, but the possibility can't be excluded just because of 'hypothetical'. It means neither it is false nor true at the point. so how can a nominee avoid the responsibility to answer the question if people really want to utilize the hearing as a probing tool to know the nominee's believes/thoughts/principals on issues people concerned?
    When it comes to biases, it has nothing to do with hypothetical or not. As I pointed out hypothetical means uncertain or possibility. Biases could come from both the real and hypothetical case. There was a movie named 12 Angry Men, dramatically demonstrated people's biases due to personal knowledge and thinking model or some other factors, no hypothetical factors at all.

    So there is no rational reason to avoid hypothetical questions because of avoiding biases in the future. Sure hypothetical questions could be sources of biases, just like the real cases. But it could help in some cases that have never been seen before, such as internet interference in the 2016 election. More importantly, it's a presumption of guilt on all hypothetical questions, which is apparently unreasonable and unfair.

    Meanwhile, during the hearing, the nominee demonstrated how great memory he has and then a senator asked a yes or no question on whether he talked to anyone about a hot topic in his specialized field. It isn't too hard for anyone to answer yes or no as if one has no special connection with the topic. Obviously, it cost the nominee a relatively long time to respond the simple question.

    Not to mention republicans declassified the documents at 4AM on the day of the confirmation hearing regardless they have the majority in the house. And there are so many other contradictions and questionable points that people pointed out already.

    The conclusion is that this is an abnormal nominee at an abnormal confirmation hearing in an abnormal POTUS' era, which people should be aware of.

  14. CaptainQueue says:

    Compare the Kavanaugh circus to the staid hearings for Sotomayor. NYT how about a story on that — double standards on full display, with the biased media's ridiculously soft runup to her insipid confirmation hearings, and conduct of cowardly "representatives" of both parties who would not ask her a single substantive question. She got a pass without a cursory glance at her qualifications and relevance of experience.

  15. Laurie Kilner says:

    Trump incites theatrics every decision he makes.

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