What if Supreme Court Justices Had to Run on Their Records?

The Atlantic

Various analysts have dissented from my May 14 post, "Why Kagan Should Stonewall the Senate." There I argued that Elena Kagan should follow the almost unbroken tradition of judicial nominees refusing to disclose their views on issues likely to come before their courts.

So here I detail some of the logic underlying my major premise: a predictive judgment that complete candor about all big issues would likely doom any Supreme Court nominee, no matter what his or her views might be.

If I’m right about this, it should clinch the case for stonewalling on specific issues even apart from my other, more normative premise: that full disclosure would lead nominees down the road toward essentially promising to decide the big issues in specified ways in a (probably vain) effort to eke out a Senate majority.

To think through how the tell-all approach would play out, let’s consider whether any of the nine current justices – other than Sonia Sotomayor, who has not yet cast votes on many big issues — could win re-confirmation by the Senate now that their views are known.

Such a hypothetical reconfirmation proceeding would approximate the difficulty of confirming a nominee who makes all of her views known.

Take Justice Stephen Breyer, who might well be the easiest of the eight veteran justices to confirm.

Why the easiest? First, because as a fairly liberal Clinton appointee, Breyer would fare better among Senate Democrats than any of the five more conservative justices. Second, because with a record more moderate than those of the quite liberal Justices John Paul Stevens and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Breyer would probably have a better chance with Senate Republicans.

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