Tuesday, June 15, 2010

51 is Enough For This

As long as I'm on nominations today...

I'm all for the kinds of questioning that James Cole, the nominee for Deputy Attorney General, received from the Senate Judiciary Committee today.  I think these hearings are one of the things the American system does well.  The hearing was timely: Cole was nominated on May 24 (of this year, I feel that it's necessary to add, alas).  With any luck, the nomination will move promptly to the Senate floor. 

Where, in my view, it should be able to pass with only a simple majority.  I don't mind individual Senators or small groups of Senators using the confirmation process to make deals with the incoming nominee and his or her department, but once that's done, I'd like to have executive branch nominations come to the Senate floor with strict limits on debate.  In other words, no filibusters.  Process 'em through: if the minority doesn't like it, let them use the nominations as an election issue.  There may be -- I think there are -- good reasons to allow the Senate to follow their preferences and require a supermajority for bills, and for judicial nominees, but I don't think those reasons are very strong for executive branch nominees.

Bonus complaint: the vetting is not only ridiculous, but accessible for quick and easy ridicule.  Does the Senate really need to know (and this is in the 28-page questionnaire, which doesn't include the financial disclosure, or various other enclosures) the top ten legal cases the nominee has worked on?  Why?  Does the Senate need to know every interview the nominee has given to the press, along 472 pages of supporting material?  Not over the last year, or five years, but ever?  That's question 12(e).  How about the 1300 pages of supporting material for question 12(c), about testimony and public statements?  Really needed? 

For judges, by the way, I think it's totally reasonable...lifetime appointments, few constraints after they're confirmed.  But we're talking here about a Deputy Attorney General.  It is an important job -- but it's not as if Congress won't have any future chances to affect administration policy at Justice, or as if he would be able to do whatever he wanted if he was confirmed.  And, yes, if there was less vetting it might increase the chances that some nominees may turn out to be crooks, or duds.  That's too bad...but it beats leaving slots unfilled (as this one has been since February). 

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