Zywicki: Confirmations as Political Bait

The bitter nomination fight seen in the Senate confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork was the turning point after which nominations more frequently became power struggles, according to Professor Todd Zywicki, whose remarks were cited in U.S. News Weekly.  

"Ever since, we see more and more, egged on by the 24/7 news cycle, confirmations now are really high-stakes political bait," says Zywicki. "The general voter doesn't pay much attention to it, but the political base of each party pays attention to it. What you have is an odd situation where everyone acknowledges that it would be better for everyone if nominations could proceed in a way that makes sense. The problem is, it's in the short-term interests of individual senators to obstruct."

The recent confirmation hearings for former Senator Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense are but the most recent example of this type of acrimony, as confirmation hearings increasingly have become surrogates for policy and political battles with the president.

Battling Over Nominees, U.S. News Weekly, February 1, 2013. By Susan Milligan.

"The White House website shows that some 170 nominations, ranging from U.S. Marshall to Defense Secretary, are awaiting confirmation by the Senate. In some cases, nominees have been waiting years, and there have been no hearings on the appointee. That's frustrating for any agency missing key managers, Wheeler says, but especially bad for the judicial branch, which is suffering from a lack of judges at the district and circuit court level. Not only must other judges be tapped to take those cases, Wheeler adds, but the delays make service on the court unappealing to otherwise worthy candidates. A lawyer in private practice simply cannot operate normally—taking on new clients and long-term cases— when a nomination is hanging over his head, he says."