Steve Chapman

He was more cooperative than Sherman Minton, appointed by Harry Truman in 1949. Called to testify, he politely invited the committee to take a long walk off a short pier. In a letter, Minton wrote, "I feel that personal participation by the nominee in the committee proceedings relating to his nomination presents a serious question of propriety, particularly when I might be required to express my views on highly controversial and litigious issues affecting the court."

Smarting from this rebuke, senators took the only reasonable course: They confirmed him.

Eventually, the tradition of reticence gave way and nominees found themselves with no choice but to show up and submit to lengthy interrogation under bright lights. Sometimes the hearings yielded helpful information.

But in 1987, after Robert Bork spent days elaborating controversial positions he had taken as a professor, his nomination went down in flames. So his successors learned to use as many words as possible to say as little as they could. That's how confirmation hearings degenerated into a tedious time suck on the order of watching third-graders try to pry open a locked safe with a Q-tip.

If the Judiciary Committee wants to know about how a prospective justice will behave on the court, it can look at her writings, speeches and record as a lawyer or judge. It can ask those who know her for insights into her temperament and personality. It can summon legal experts to analyze her publicly stated thoughts. It can read her horoscope. None of these could possibly be less fruitful than the current practice.

Supreme Court nominees can show up on Capitol Hill to squander precious days of our lives saying nothing. Better for all of us if they stay home and do the same.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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