Hearing reveals country’s flaws

Staff Editorial Princeton University

Confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito ’72 wrapped up Friday.

While we learned much about Judge Alito’s legal acumen, personal character and judicial temperament, even the most careful observer would have been unable to ascertain much information about his judicial philosophy.

Frankly, this board finds this state of affairs disappointing.

This criticism is not necessarily directed at Judge Alito. Confirmation hearings for judicial nominees have degenerated into little more than opportunities for grandstanding senators to appeal to their respective special interests.

And during the moments in which senators are not playing to their bases, they are busy trying to find some “smoking gun” with which to derail the judicial nomination.

Indeed, the nature of last week’s hearings was the result of a frustrating cycle.

Knowing this, nominees are encouraged to say as little as possible of substance in response to questions.

If the new standard for picking federal judges becomes selecting those without a discernible record on key legal issues, many qualified candidates, particularly law professors, will inevitably be passed over.

While a nominee like Alito will have a long legal track record and thus discernible legal views, it is possible for such a candidate to wiggle out of those views during Senate hearings.

It is worrisome to think that future legal students may have to decide early on between a career in the academy and a career on the bench.

This inevitably discourages students interested in serving in the courts from also contributing their talents to the academy, while at the same time eliminating thoughtful and talented scholars from the pool of potential judicial nominees.

This situation cannot be good for our students or for our country as a whole.

The concept of open and honest intellectual discourse is one to which the senators of the Judiciary Committee should aspire.

In doing so, not only will they learn more about the individuals who seek to make the legal judgments that will affect millions of Americans, but also they will help to reverse the trend of nominating judges with no background. This can only benefit the judicial process, particularly for those students who hope to become productive members of the judicial branch in the future.