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Senate Process, Congressional Politics, and the Thomas Nomination

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 September 2013

Barbara Sinclair
Affiliation:
University of California, Riverside

Extract

“The wrenching testimony of Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas, accuser and accused, constituted a defining moment for the country that will forever change how the U.S. Senate reviews Supreme Court nominees” (Biskupic 1991, 2948). Thus did sober, factual Congressional Quarterly judge the consequences of the Hill-Thomas hearings. Most news accounts were considerably more fervid. Reporters as well as commentators claimed that the hearings demonstrated that the confirmation process is a complete fiasco.

The Hill-Thomas hearings did not expose some fundamental flaw in the process per se. To be sure, a lot of less than admirable behavior and some procedural misjudgments characterized the latter part of the Thomas confirmation hearings. But a situation such as this one will always be difficult for the Senate or any similar body to handle. Structural changes in the process cannot make it easy or painless. Most of the “reforms” proposed would not work or would be counterproductive.

According to a second theme in the media coverage, the hearings demonstrated that senators—at least the ones on the Judiciary Committee—are incompetent, inadequate for their jobs, and out of touch with the American people. To the contrary, I think that both Democrats and Republicans followed strategies that made excellent sense given the political context in which they operated. Incompetence is not the problem.

If the simple process and personnel-based critiques are off base, was the widespread disquiet the hearings generated misplaced? There are reasons for concern but somewhat more subtle ones than those most often raised.

Type
Politics, Values, and the Thomas Nomination
Copyright
Copyright © The American Political Science Association 1992

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References

Biskupic, Joan. 1991. “Thomas Drama Engulfs Nation; Anguished Senate Faces Vote.” Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, October 12.Google Scholar
Gauch, James E. 1989. “The Intended Role of the Senate in Supreme Court Appointments.” University of Chicago Law Review 56: 337–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ginsburg, Ruth Bader. 1988. “Confirming Supreme Court Justices: Thoughts on the Second Opinion Rendered by the Senate.” University of Illinois Law Review 45: 101–17.Google Scholar
Holmes, Nigel and Dickstein, Leslie. 1991. “How Anita Hill's Allegations Came to Light.” Time, October 21.Google Scholar
Kuntz, Phil. 1991. “Mired in Procedural, Political Mess, Senate Scrambled to Delay Vote.” Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, October 12.Google Scholar
Tribe, Laurence H. 1985. God Save This Honorable Court. New York: Random House.Google Scholar
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