Center for American Progress

Over 100 Legal Scholars Join Senator Charles E. Schumer in Urging Senate to Question Nominees on Judicial Philosophy
Press Release

Over 100 Legal Scholars Join Senator Charles E. Schumer in Urging Senate to Question Nominees on Judicial Philosophy

Washington, DC – Today, as the President and the Senate prepare to fill the Supreme Court vacancy caused by the retirement of Justice O’Connor, a group of over 100 legal scholars from across the United States released a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee urging Senators to give careful consideration to nominees’ views about the Constitution and the judicial process, and offering 10 questions that should be asked of every nominee to the federal courts.

The letter was initiated by three noted authorities on constitutional law and the role of the Senate: Professors William P. Marshall and Michael Gerhardt of the University Of North Carolina School Of Law and Professor Erwin Chemerinsky of Duke University School of Law.

It was released in conjunction with an address by U.S. Senator Charles E. (Chuck) Schumer (D-NY), sponsored by the Center for American Progress and the American Constitution Society, on the role of judicial philosophy in the confirmation process.

The letter was prompted by the debate over what consideration should be given to a nominee’s judicial and constitutional philosophy. The authors conclude:

Because federal judges do not serve fixed terms of office, we believe it is critical that the Senate, in giving its Advice and Consent, undertake a searching inquiry to assure itself that judicial nominees meet the highest standards of character and integrity; that they will consider each case with an open mind; and that their views are within the constitutional mainstream.

We believe that the Senate’s explicit authority to give its Advice and Consent to judicial nominations includes the power to consider nominees’ beliefs about the Constitution and the role of the courts in interpreting it. We further believe that, in evaluating nominees, the Senate should be especially skeptical of nominees who approach questions of constitutional meaning from extreme, rigid, and divisive perspectives.

In a statement, Senator Chuck Schumer applauded the letter, and said: “These top legal minds have it exactly right — there are a number of questions you can ask about a nominee’s views of constitutional issues and decided cases. From states rights to civil rights to workers’ rights, Senators have a right to ask these tough questions, and the American people have a right to know the answers.”

The Center for American Progress has also published a report on this subject, Ideology Matters: A Progressive View of the Judicial Confirmation Process.

“Professors Marshall, Chemerinsky, Gerhardt and their colleagues have helped lay to rest the canard that the Senate should not inquire into a nominee’s judicial philosophy,” said John Podesta, President and CEO of the Center for American Progress. “It is only through a ‘searching inquiry’ into such matters that Senators can assure themselves that nominees do not harbor ideological preconceptions that are outside the constitutional mainstream and would make it difficult for them to follow precedent or consider each case with an open mind.”

Click here for a copy of the letter.

For information on this issue, see our Supreme Court Nomination Resource Guide.