Deja Vu All Over Again:
I've been looking through old news reports of previous Supreme Court nominations, and it's hard not to feel that the media and congressional reaction to the nomination of John Roberts and Harriett Miers are following one of a handful of set scripts that have been around for a few decades. I was particularly amused by the following Associated Press report of the first day of the Souter confirmation hearings in 1990:
SHOW US YOUR HEART, BIDEN TELLS SOUTERThe Senate Judiciary Committee today opened confirmation hearings on Supreme Court nominee David Souter, and the panel's chairman appealed to him for a "glimpse into your heart" on issues such as privacy and equal rights.
Souter sat quietly in the cavernous committee room as Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., said lawmakers had a "duty to discover" his views on a range of issues that might come before the court. He did not single out abortion.
The Supreme Court has been deeply divided in recent years with 5-4 rulings on many contentious issues such as abortion and civil rights, and conservatives were hoping that if confirmed, Souter would help anchor the court firmly on the right.
The 50-year-old nominee was to get his chance to speak after each of the 14 committee members made opening statements.
Despite calls by Biden and other Democrats for Souter to discuss his views, Republicans said the mandate for the committee was to judge his fitness for the high court. "We are certainly not here to find out how you will rule on various issues before the court," said Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo.
"Judge Souter is not running for political office," complained Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. "Judge Souter, I hope you will stand your ground when you sincerely believe you are being asked for answers you clearly cannot properly provide."
The session was interrupted briefly when a dozen people, claiming to represent the gay rights group ACT UP, loudly protested the nomination. Capitol Police arrested the six men and six women and said each had been charged with disrupting a congressional hearing and demonstrating within a Capitol building.
Souter is a former New Hampshire attorney general who was confirmed to federal appeals court earlier this year. He remains something of a legal enigma to the many conservative and liberal groups who have scoured his record since his nomination on July 23 to succeed retiring Justice William Brennan.
The American Bar Association has given Souter its top rating for qualifications. Some groups, including the National Organization for Women, have come out against Souter, while others have reserved judgment. There has been no outcry from liberals similar to the one that preceded the rejection of Robert Bork's nomination during the Reagan administration, however, and no predictions that the Democratic-controlled Senate will defeat the nomination.
Souter himself was a spectator for the first few hours of his confirmation hearings, and Democrats and Republicans sparred over the nomination.
"Open for us the window into your mind," Biden told Souter. "And give us a little bit of a glimpse into your heart."
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., said he was concerned there was "little in his record that demonstrates real solicitude for the rights of those who are weakest and most powerless in our society."
Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., said the questioning should not include "direct questioning about sensitive issues that may come before the court."
Democrat Howard Metzenbaum of Ohio said the White House had sought to reassure the GOP right wing that Souter was their kind of nominee. "Does John Sununu know something which we don't?" he said, referring to Bush's chief of staff.
Souter's approach to the law is undoubtedly conservative but there's not enough in the record to indicate, for example, how he would vote on the 1973 abortion rights ruling now being challenged by the Bush administration.