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Study of Confirmation Hearings Holds Big Lessons, Says Editorial

An editorial in the April 14, 2008, issue of the New York Times says that the findings presented in an article in Constitutional Commentary "have particular resonance now because the next president could nominate three or more justices, shaping the law for decades to come."

Constitutional Commentary, a faculty-edited journal of the Law School, published the article, "An Empirical Analysis of the Confirmation Hearings of the Justices of the Rehnquist Natural Court" by Jason J. Czarnezki, William K. Ford, and Lori A. Ringhand, in its spring 2007 issue.

The article notes that one purpose of the Senate's confirmation hearings is to determine Supreme Court Justice nominees' judicial philosophy, an indicator of how that nominee will interpret the law.

However, the authors point out, nominees often avoid revealing much useful information at these hearings, and "little work has been done comparing the statements made by nominees at their confirmation hearings with their subsequent behavior on the Supreme Court." The article looks at the relationship between such statements and voting patterns or written opinions on specific issues during the 1994-2005 period when the same nine justices were on the bench.

Although the article "does not say that any nominee was intentionally misleading, it still found a wide gap," notes the NYT editorial.

The editorial, titled "How to Judge a Would-be Justice," concludes that the study delivers an important lesson: "Senators should examine a nominee's entire legal career and look for clear evidence that he or she is committed to fairness, equal justice and an unstinting view of constitutional rights."

"How to Judge a Would-be Justice," is available online from the New York Times website.

"An Empirical Analysis of the Confirmation Hearings of the Justices of the Rehnquist Natural Court" is available here as a PDF document (890 KB).

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