Whatever the outcome of the battle over Judge Sam Alito’s nomination to the Supreme Court, judicial activists are poised to win the larger war. They have shifted the terms and tone of the debate on judicial nominations and are affecting the Senate’s ability to confirm qualified and independent judges.
Activist organizations such as the People For the American Way, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, and the Alliance for Justice orchestrate large campaigns that influence senators to vote down or filibuster judicial nominees. Whether or not their tactics succeed, their very use corrupts the judicial nomination process.
The Senate’s duty is to see that nominees are impartial, professionally qualified, possessed of a judicial temperament, and committed to equal justice under law. The advocacy organizations demand that senators ask ideological questions and require specific answers on issues that might come before nominees as judges. Activist groups draw wild conclusions about candidates based upon their previous case work and clients.
Threatening U.S. senators does little to inspire confidence in the judicial selection process or its results. Pressure the activists exert creates a public impression that the Senate may have something on its mind other than the qualifications of nominees who come before it.
Judicial activist force nominees to debate political ideology, then quickly deny that they have done any such thing. These watchdog groups rely on hyperbole, which demeans the judicial selection process while it draws the Senate into ideological debates. They demand that judicial nominees prove themselves innocent of unfounded charges, claiming that a judicial nominee exhibits “disturbing patterns of thinking” or seems to lack evidence of “compassion” and “sensitivity.”
The activists’ extreme tactics harm the judicial confirmation by politicizing it. Casting judges as political players undermines the appearance of impartiality that is the hallmark of the court system.