Because I am an attorney and because I happen to love constitutional law, one might think that I would be glued to my television this week during the confirmation hearings for Elena Kagan to be appointed as a justice on the Supreme Court. However, nothing could be farther from the truth. I will read the daily dispatches in the New York Times and might catch the soundbites on CNN, but I can think of a list longer than my arm of things more worth my time.
As Kagan has herself pointed out, these hearings are “vapid and hollow charade.” The Senators are going to repeat partisan talking points that bear little relation to the complexities of constitutional law and the nominee will say just enough to be confirmed but no more. As others have emphasized, these hearings ought to work as a civic event to educate the public regarding constitutional interpretations and the content and progress of our civic freedoms. However, it is hard to see how an environment where both participants are just trying to score points is conducive to educational outcomes. At first glance, this does not appear to signal that the Socratic dialogue between professor and student in a law school would be educationally useful, but having been there myself, I think that most students (and probably most professors) are simply trying not to look stupid or unprepared. However, in the present case, I do not think that anyone believes that Elena Kagan is stupid. From all reports, she seems to have been consciously preparing for this moment her whole life; she is unlikely to screw it up now by saying something risky. And on the other side, I do not think that the Senators will be able to say anything that will convince me that half of them are not complete morons.