Having observed and testified at innumerable legislative hearings at the state and local levels, they tend to be brief and to the point. Having testified before Congress, I can assure you that they tend to be loooong … pompous … off point … and boring.
Forced observation of the Supreme Court confirmation hearing for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson would rival waterboarding as a recognized torture. I must confess that I could not bear gavel to gavel viewing – although I did take in more than any human should be required. It’s my job.
My first hint that this would be a cerebral disaster was when it was announced that each of the members of the Judiciary Committee would be allowed 30 minutes of questioning. Even if the time rule adhered to that would mean more than 12 hours of inquisition on the first day. More than sufficient time for germane questions – and too much time for political posturing.
Since the senators could distribute topics and questions among the two sides, it would be more likely that all the relevant questions could be covered if you gave the Democrats and Republican 30 minutes per team.
But of course, the time allotment is not really for the purpose of asking relevant questions. It is for the senators to give campaign speeches or launch partisan attacks on the other side. There are simply not enough critical questions to consume 12 hours. Thus, you get speeches, repetition and irrelevant questions.
The current hearing is not a one-off. Virtually every Supreme Court confirmation hearing runs aground on the shoals of petty partisan politics. This one is no exception.
These hearings are given maximum media exposure. From the standpoint of the senators, it is a huge press event. They are not primarily engaging in inquiry with the nominee, they are playing to the media audience – and their base constituencies.
This one was a bigger waste of time than most for several reasons. Jackson seems all but assured of being confirmed. Her resume is appropriate to the job – although not to my liking, personally. There has been nothing revealed recently – or in her previous confirmation hearings – that would suggest a reason to withdraw the nomination. In short, Jackson is a shoo-in.
Each Democrat senator took the opportunity to praise Jackson. Which meant that we viewers were forced to hear the same compliments over … and over … and over … and over. If they had eliminated all but one of those flattering remarks, the first day’s hearing could have been shortened by at least three hours. As were virtually all past Supreme Court nominees, Jackson was hyperbolically declared to be the most qualified in American history.
There was a lot of look-at-me in the hearing. One notable example was Senator Richard Blumenthal prefacing his remarks by claiming that the most important case in his career was successfully defending a man on death row who was subsequently found to be not guilty of the murder. Blumenthal did not name the case, which made me wonder.
In view of his well-deserved reputation for fibbing about events in his past, I was suspicious. I called Blumenthal’s office to get the details. No one could – or would –provide them. I cannot say his story is not true, but I can say no one in his office could provide the information I requested. But I digress.
The last time was devoted to questions relating to Jackson’s judicial temperament. There were obvious questions about guns, abortion, and the Constitution. They got the obvious answers – or no answer at all. In fact, I knew the answer before Jackson had an opportunity to respond. Of course, I could have done a better job at defining a “woman.”
The tough questions would naturally come from the Republicans. Without a lot to work with, a couple of Republican senators attempted to stir the pot of controversy. The main one had to do with Jackson’s sentencing of pedophile sex offenders – specifically those possessing but not creating child porn. The issue was intended to appeal to the horror of sexual abuse of children. But even as a critic of Jackson’s judicial philosophy, I did not find the accusations advanced by Senators Hawley and Cruz to be very persuasive. In another case, questions were raised about a speech Jackson gave in elementary school. That seemed a rather long reach for relevancy.
The effort to inflate controversy failed. I doubt that those senators who wanted to create controversy appealed to more than the base. There just was not enough there.
As anticipated, the tougher Republican inquisitors were severely mocked and condemned in the press. In another commentary, I advised the GOP to keep a low profile and just let this nomination proceed to its foregone conclusion. They do not have near enough support to stop the confirmation, but at least they could have avoided a round of negative publicity.
So, there ‘tis.