Seeking Justices

The Judging of Supreme Court Nominees

Michael Comiskey

In the long shadows cast by the Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas nominations, Supreme Court confirmations remain highly contentious and controversial. This is due in part to the Senates increasing reliance upon a much lengthier, much more public, and occasionally raucous confirmation process—in an effort to curb the potential excesses of executive power created by presidents seeking greater control over the Courts ideological composition. Michael Comiskey offers the most comprehensive, systematic, and optimistic analysis of that process to date.

Arguing that the process works well and therefore should not be significantly altered, Comiskey convincingly counters those critics who view highly contentious confirmation proceedings as the norm. Senators have every right and a real obligation, he contends, to scrutinize the nominees constitutional philosophies. He further argues that the media coverage of the Senates deliberations has worked to improve the level of such scrutiny and that recent presidents have neither exerted excessive influence on the appointment process nor created a politically extreme Court. He also examines the ongoing concern over presidential efforts to pack the court, concluding that stacking the ideological deck is unlikely.

“A lively and well-informed discussion of the confirmation process, particularly as it relates to the latter half of the twentieth century. . . . This book will do much to enrich our understanding of the confirmation process, and it will enliven debate for years to come about what criteria the Senate should emphasize when selecting justices of the Supreme Court.

—H-Net Reviews

“The topic could hardly be timelier. . . . Despite the rancor surrounding recent judicial appointments, Comiskey defends the modern confirmation process. Not only have critics exaggerated its contentiousness, but also he argues that the process works well, producing capable jurists and a needed arena for discussing important constitutional and legal issues. . . . Comiskey has provided a thorough and systematic account of the modern confirmation process and the debates surrounding it. His analysis is thoughtful and provocative. He successfully rebuts many of the criticisms of the modern process. He also argues persuasively that it has led to a more robust constitutional dialogue and the appointment of able justices, while avoiding the appointment of extremists.

—The Historian
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As an exception to the rule, Comiskey analyzes in depth the Thomas confirmation to explain why it was an aberration, offering the most detailed account yet of Thomass pre-judicial professional and political activities. He argues that the Senate Judiciary Committee abdicated its responsibilities out of deference to Thomass race.

Another of the books unique features is Comiskeys reassessment of the reputations of twentieth-century Supreme Court justices. Based on a survey of nearly 300 scholars in constitutional law and politics, it shows that the modern confirmation process continues to fill Court vacancies with jurists as capable as those of earlier eras.

We have now seen the longest period without a turnover on the Court since the early nineteenth century, making inevitable the appointment of several new justices following the 2004 presidential election. Thus, the timing of the publication of Seeking Justices could not be more propitious.