John M. Walker Jr., a senior judge for the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, laments the “unfortunate politicization of judicial confirmation hearings” in an online Atlantic essay. His analysis is concise and troubling. Judge Walker begins:
“The nomination and confirmation process for federal judges is broken. It politicizes the judiciary, misrepresents the judiciary’s role in our democracy, demeans highly qualified nominees, and unjustifiably delays or jettisons confirmations altogether. Such political theater trivializes a decision of considerable magnitude — the lifetime appointment of a federal judge — and has no hope of accomplishing its stated aim: the vetting of a candidate for the performance of the judicial function as it actually occurs.”
When senators avoid questions about a nominee’s decision-making process and instead hammer away with questions about personal views on hot-button issues, their approach mistakenly “relies on the assumption that judges rule based on their political views,” Judge Walker writes. It also is a shortsighted approach, inviting a political “tit-for-tat practice.” Judge Walker identifies serious long-term costs inherent in this approach:
- “First, the politicization of confirmation hearings perpetuates the misconception that the judicial role is political. This lowers the public esteem on which courts depend.”
- “Second, fewer qualified candidates will seek or accept judicial nominations if the confirmation process includes publicized political attacks as a matter of course.”
- “Third, as senators play whack‑a‑mole with judicial nominations, vacancies on the federal bench go unfilled and the administration of justice is impeded.”
- “Finally, the politicization of confirmation hearings sows public distrust in government institutions as stabilizing forces in our racially, ethnically, and religiously disparate society.”
Judge Walker was appointed to a district court bench by President Ronald Reagan and elevated to the Second Circuit by President George H.W. Bush.
Justice at Stake warns on its web site, “Judicial nominations increasingly are embattled along political lines.” JAS has spotlighted a proposal, initially advanced by the American Bar Association, to identify highly qualified judicial candidates and promote principled confirmations to the federal bench.