Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Selling of Supreme Court NomineesThe Selling of Supreme Court Nominees by John Anthony Maltese
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have always been fascinated by the workings and power of the Supreme Court in U.S. and have read quite a number of books on the topic. John Anthony Maltese's "The Selling of Supreme Court Nominees", even if a bit unfocused, is a pretty good book that helps understand the nomination and confirmation process of candidates to this highest court.

As the author says, the President's power to nominate judges to the Supreme Court is "the least considered aspect of the Presidential power". To me, it is one of the most important aspect since Supreme Court can decide which human behaviors are legal. The author's words are, of course, more precise and detailed: "By defining privacy rights, interpreting the First Amendment, setting guidelines for the treatment of criminal defendants, and exercising its power of judicial review in a host of other areas, the Supreme Court establishes public policy."

Mr. Maltese points out that some of main issues tackled by the Supreme Court have not changed since the year 1800. Already then there was a debate on "states' rights versus national supremacy", which can be, in a sense equivalently, called a debate between a narrow or a broad interpretation of the Constitution. The author also shows that although most of public battles about nominations to the Supreme Court that involved organized interest groups have happened in the recent 50 years (for example, the famous Bork hearings, which managed to pitch 300 anti-Bork interest groups vs. 100 pro-Bork groups, or the Clarence Thomas / Anita Hill case), the rise of public interest influence can be traced to the 1880s.

The author offers what the title promises in the second part of the book, where he writes about how the Presidents (through their people, of course) "sell" their candidates for judicial appointments. Mr. Maltese quotes the wonderfully succinct phrase "Presidential power is the power to persuade", and shows a variety of ways in which this persuasion takes place in the case of the Supreme Court nominations: using the press, the Senate, employing patronage and politics (sometimes even using veiled threats to opponents), and through building interest group support.

Quite an interesting book that offers much more than I have summarized above.

Three and a half stars.

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