Politics and the Court: Judicial Nomination Hearings

There is no other way to put it: Senate nomination hearings have become ugly episodes in American politics. This is often the battleground over which liberals and conservatives come to arms.

The government seemed to cross a threshold a few years back with the failed nomination of Judge Robert Bork, who is in the center of the photograph above. The following is a political ad aired opposing Bork’s confirmation to the court. Such a tactic tells us how much politics has now entered the once relatively dignified process of approving a presidential appointment to the Supreme Court. Indeed, as Federalist Paper #76 anticipated, the Senate would play a passive “silent” role. They would certainly be insulated from the pressure that might come from the media, interest groups, or even their constituents. The Bork confirmation hearings introduced a new word into political conversations: When a presidential nominee is treated badly by the Senate judiciary committee, he is said to have been “borked.” HERE  is an ad taken out against Bork.

Another line may have been crossed with the successful, but even uglier nomination hearings  concerning Clarence Thomas. At the last minute, a former co-worker/subordinate came forward to accuse him of pretty lurid acts of sexual harassment. The testimony went on for several days, even preempting Saturday morning cartoons. To this day, no one seems to  know for sure what to make of the “he said, she said” drama. HERE is a brief but angry response from Thomas about the proceedings. And HERE is an interview with Clarence Thomas many years later at Wake Forest Law School.

Finally, HERE'S a Congressional Quarterly recap of these hearings put in a broader, historical context:

© Hank Edmondson 2012