As part of the Wm. Matthew Byrne, Jr., Judicial Clerkship Institute, Pepperdine University School of Law hosted a discussion titled, "Supreme Court Nominations: The Confirmation Process," featuring ABC News Correspondent Jan Crawford Greenburg and Princeton University Provost Christopher Eisgruber and responses by Dean Ken Starr, Professor Doug Kmiec, and Professor Akhil Amar, on Friday, March 20, at the School of Law.
Eisgruber, who penned the book The Next Justice: Repairing the Supreme Court Appointments Process (2007), asserted that confirmation hearings should center on judicial philosophy. Judicial philosophy, he defined as "the interplay between a particular judge's ideological values and their procedural or at least institutional values." Eisgruber went on to predict that President Obama will nominate at least three justices during his tenure.
Following Eisgruber, Greenburg spoke on the Rehnquist Court. Greenburg is the author of Supreme Conflict: The Inside Story of the Struggle for Control of the United States Supreme Court (2007). Greenburg reviewed how the Court was intact for 11 years--beginning in 1994 when Breyer took his seat. She recounted that many conservatives were disappointed with the impact of the Rehnquist Court because of the failure to take advantage of opportunities to change the makeup of the Court. David Souter was appointed by President George H. Bush to replace William Brennan, but he frequently voted with the Court's liberal block.
Greenburg also discussed Justice Thomas' nomination and the media frenzy that followed. "The story line very quickly emerged that Thomas was Scalia's lackey. That story, which was widely reported, is grossly inaccurate," she said. "In fact it was Scalia who often changed his vote to join Thomas." Greenburg cited evidence of this from her review of the Justice Blackmun papers at the Library of Congress.
Dean Starr referenced "the confirmation mess," the title of a book on the topic by Yale professor Stephen Carter. Dean Starr gave a brief history of nominations post World War II, and suggested a few takeaways for the process moving forward. "The political scientists have carried the day," he said. "The correct way to view the confirmation process--and I say this as a lamentation--is that it's a struggle about power, it's a struggle about rank, it's all about ideology and politics and not at all about law."
The event was part of the three-day Ninth Annual Wm. Matthew Byrne, Jr., Judicial Clerkship Institute. The purpose of institute is to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of judicial law clerks. The program works in consultation with several of the most highly respected federal judges in the United States to identify the subjects that new clerks most need to learn.
A video of the event will be available shortly.