January 14, 2014 10:10AM

Our Broken Judicial Nominations Process

This month at Cato Unbound, we’re discussing the federal judicial nominations process: Is it broken? (Spoiler: Yes!) How did it get that way? And what can be done to fix it? 

Our lead essayist is John R. Lott, Jr., author of the new book Dumbing Down the Courts: How Politics Keeps the Smartest Judges Off the Bench. His lead essay charges that the growth of the federal government’s regulatory reach has raised the stakes in the judicial nominaitons process: Now it’s a much graver matter when the other party’s judges end up on the bench — particularly if the nominees in question are especially smart and persuasive. Lott writes:

Think that attending a top university and graduating at the top of the class is the key to your success? Not if you’re headed for a federal judgeship. In fact, today the most accomplished candidates are the most likely to be rejected. And this phenomenon has only gotten worse, with the quality of judges declining over the last four decades…

A smart, persuasive judge might convince other judges to change their votes on a case. Judges who can write powerfully worded decisions also are more likely to be cited more frequently in other judges’ decisions and to influence their decisions.

The president wants to nominate influential judges to successfully push the positions he values. His political opponents, however, naturally fear such judges — and, therefore, vehemently oppose their appointments.

Agree? Disagree? We’ll see some of each this month at Cato Unbound, and we invite you to follow the conversation as it develops. Coming up we’ll have essays by Professor Michael Teter of the University of Utah, on January 15; Clint Bolick of the Goldwater Institute, on January 17; and John O. McGinnis of Northwestern University, on January 20. A conversation among all four participants will then be held through the end of the month.

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