Should the Senate Defer to the President?
Ugly fights over Supreme Court nominations are nothing new. Less than a decade after the nation's founding, a divided Senate rejected President George Washington's nomination of John Rutledge to serve as chief justice of the United States. Washington's own party deserted Rutledge, who had previously served as an associate justice on the Court, because of a speech he had made criticizing the administration's foreign policy. Partisan newspapers made scurrilous allegations against the nominee, charging that he had failed to pay his debts and might suffer from mental defects.1 In the two centuries since Rutledge's defeat, senators and presidents have battled over many nominees.
Allegations of scandal have been frequent in these confrontations, but the hearings on Clarence Thomas in 1991 nevertheless rank among the most dismal and sordid of all.2 The Thomas nomination was rife with hypocrisy from the very start. When George H. W. Bush announced his choice, he said that he had selected Thomas because he was simply the most qualified man for the job. This pronouncement was hard to credit.3 Bush was under pressure to appoint