Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Improving the SCOTUS nomination process

I can't understand why the Democrats aren't standing up for the principle that a nominee should not under any circumstance be allowed to duck questions. This is a simple principle that every American regardless of ideological stripe ought to be able to respect. The message ought to be something like this:
A SCOTUS nominees get a lifetime appointment to determine the meaning of the laws of this country, a position of enormous privilege and responsibility. The American people deserve a nominee whose beliefs and values are both well-known and aligned with theirs. If a nominee refuses to say exactly -- EXACTLY -- what he makes of current legal interpretations, then he or she shouldn't sit on the Court.
The Democrats should seize the moment to stand for the principle that a nominee's refusal to answer questions about whether particular past decisions were rightly or wrongly decided automatically earns a "No" vote.

In short, every nominee should have to answer straight-forwardly whether they think (to take a random sampling) Griswold, Roe, Bush v Gore, Kelo, Heart of Atlanta Motel, Nebbia, Wickard, Lawrence, or Grutter were rightly decided. If not, why not?

Here's a suggestion: what if the Judiciary Committee were to make it a tradition that each Senator on the committee is allowed to name a single case from the past that SCOTUS nominees would be expected to comment on -- essentially, to write an opinion on the case. This would be part of the preparation work that a potential nominee would be expected to do -- a basic test of whether they are competent to do the job.

Withough question, such an assignment would provide the truest window into the actual legal thinking of any particular nominee. It's hard for me to imagine how anyone could make a principled objection to this proposal.

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