After seven weeks of courtship on Capitol Hill, President Obama’s second nominee to the Supreme Court, Elena Kagan, will go before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday for her first full day of hearings. You can view a live feed of the proceedings, courtesy of the NewsHour, above.
Despite the fanfare and media attention, there seems little doubt that Kagan will ultimately be confirmed by the Senate. Her lengthy roll-out, including the release of thousands of pages of legal documents and meetings with Congressional leaders, has been largely uncontroversial. And after several failed attempts to raise suspicions about her record, Republican leaders have all but ruled out a filibuster.
And yet, because of their timing, the hearings have become a convenient venue for a broader and perhaps more meaningful debate on the issues that have come to define the Supreme Court in recent years: civil rights, privacy and the Second Amendment, among others. Republicans have also signaled that they will attempt to force Kagan to outline her broader judicial philosophy, as they did in the confirmation hearings of Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
Kagan has herself famously derided the confirmation process as a “vapid and hollow charade,” and she will likely be just as resistant as her predecessors to answering questions about her specific views or hypothetical cases. And yet, Kagan’s confirmation hearings may prove to be more fruitful than most expect.
A new study conducted by two political science professors finds that hearings for nominees to the Supreme Court in the last 70 years have been considerably more substantive than critics might have us believe. Democrats have grilled nominees on their views of civil rights; Republicans have honed in on their judicial philosophies. And in most cases, senators have at least been able to engage nominees in a credible dialogue on the issues that have earned the court’s attention since the 1930s.
“These hearings provide information to senators and the American public regarding a host of issues implicating nominees’ backgrounds, preferred means of judicial interpretation, and views on the most pressing issues of the day,” the authors write in their report.
Kagan’s confirmation hearings may well fall along these lines. As the current term of the Supreme Court ends, and the justices issue a host of landmark rulings on everything from gun rights to the First Amendment, the Kagan hearings may turn out to be less about the nominee than about the direction of the court she seeks to join.