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Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Supreme Court Confirmation Process: Play Ball!

Yesterday, AFJ President Nan Aron participated in a well-attended panel discussion about the Supreme Court confirmation process at American University’s Washington College of Law. Nan was joined by William Yeomans, Fellow in Law and Government at Washington College of Law and former acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, Rachel Brand, counsel at WilmerHale and former Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Policy, and moderator Steve Wermiel, Fellow in Law and Government at Washington College of Law.

Nan explained that in countless focus groups, few citizens have an informed opinion of the Supreme Court. “Many people in America have no idea what judges do. Most feel they aren’t allowed to have an opinion. Many can’t name a Supreme Court justice.” The panelists detailed the flawed confirmation system by which Supreme Court justices are confirmed. Professor Yeomans described the hearings as an enormous show “inevitably portrayed as a sort of make or break drama.” Ms. Brand similarly described the process as sadly political, with nuance lost in the 24-hour press cycle, and noted that the confirmation process often dissuades exceptional candidates from seeking consideration.

The Supreme Court is one of our most treasured governmental institutions, with sweeping and far reaching powers. The panel discussed how judicial nominations are of central importance to the Republican Party. Professor Yeomans noted that those on the left have been “much more bashful about packaging their message and expending political capital on judges.”

The impending departure of Justice John Paul Stevens demands public attention: a moderate replacement will move the already conservative court even further to the right. The politically-diverse panel agreed the next Supreme Court confirmation will be more centered around politics than judicial philosophy. With Justice Stevens planning to retire this year or next, it is time for progressives to advocate for and educate the public about qualified, liberal judges.

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