Predicting Supreme Court Votes by Ignoring Confirmation Hearings

Slate's blog on legal issues.
April 14 2008 10:56 AM

Predicting Supreme Court Votes by Ignoring Confirmation Hearings

A New York Times editorial , citing a recent study , complains that Supreme Court nominees don't tell the truth during their confirmation hearings, which makes it hard to predict how they will behave on the bench. The study measures the degree to which a nominee expresses a commitment to respecting precedent during confirmation hearings and finds little relationship between that measure and the actual propensity of that person, once confirmed, to respect precedent. The Times is troubled: "Supreme Court nominees present themselves one way at confirmation hearings but act differently on the court. That makes it difficult for senators to cast informed votes or for the public to play a meaningful role in the process."

/blogs/convictions/2008/04/14/predicting_supreme_court_votes_by_ignoring_confirmation_hearings/jcr:content/body/slate_image

But, as the study notes, there is a correlation between ideology and willingness to overturn precedents: The five more-conservative members were those who were more likely to overturn precedents. There is a simple reason for this. The conservative Rehnquist Court inherited the liberal precedents of predecessor courts, especially the Warren Court. We know from other studies that justices tend to vote their political preferences. So if Republican justices are to vote their political preferences, and the precedents that they inherit are liberal, they are going to have to overturn those precedents.

Advertisement

The New York Times has little to complain about. It is easy to predict how nominees will vote once they are on the court. Just look at their party membership and other evidence of their ideology and ignore what they say at their confirmation hearings.

See also

.

Eric Posner, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School, is author of The Twilight of International Human Rights Law. Follow him on Twitter.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore, and Schools Are Getting Worried

The Good Wife Is Cynical, Thrilling, and Grown-Up. It’s Also TV’s Best Drama.

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 19 2014 9:15 PM Chris Christie, Better Than Ever
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
  Life
Quora
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 4:48 PM You Should Be Listening to Sbtrkt
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 20 2014 7:00 AM The Shaggy Sun
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.