What John Roberts Gets Right About What's Wrong With SCOTUS Hiring Process

Chief Justice John Roberts speaks at the Federal Circuit Judicial Conference, Monday, April 11, 2016, in Washington. (AP Phot
Chief Justice John Roberts speaks at the Federal Circuit Judicial Conference, Monday, April 11, 2016, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Imagine you were getting ready to hire a team member who you could never fire -- someone who would be on your team for life, making important decisions that impact your company's direction for all of posterity; and the only route for their departure is their death.

You'd want to be perfectly sure of their qualifications for the job, right?

These same circumstances describe our senators' relationship to individuals considered for Supreme Court nomination -- and yet today the facts indicate that confirmation is contingent not on qualifications but on where the individual falls within party ideology.

This trend of party-divided appointment confirmations is a relatively new phenomenon. Scalia was confirmed by a vote of 98 to 0 in 1986; and Ruth Bader Ginsburg was confirmed 96 to 3 in 1993. Then starting with Justice Alito's 2006 confirmation under George W. Bush, we see a party divide with a split vote of 58 to 42, followed by 68 to 31 a few years later for Justice Sotomayor, and in 2010, a split 63 to 37 for Justice Kagan.

Chief Justice John Roberts highlighted this error of the system just last month: "Look at my more recent colleagues, all extremely well qualified for the court," he said,

and the votes were, I think, strictly on party lines for the last three of them, or close to it, and that doesn't make any sense. That suggests to me that the process is being used for something other than ensuring the qualifications of the nominees.

Interesting (or eerily) Chief Justice Roberts spoke these words 10 days before Scalia's death -- he couldn't have predicted how aptly he would describe Republican senators' refusal to consider Merrick Garland under the current political moment.

By all measures Merrick Garland is qualified to serve as a Supreme Court justice, including the fact that he has more years of experience as a federal judge than any of the sitting justices did at the time of their appointment. Even fixtures of the right including Kenneth Starr have praised Garland.

Qualifications for the leading jurist of the land ought to be focused squarely on qualifications and life experience, just as the ideal hiring process in the Fortune 1000 ought to be focused on finding the most talented, highly qualified person for the job.