The Chronicle’s View: Is Alito neato or a mosquito? Nobody knows, thanks to worthless decision process

A storm is brewing in Washington. Not a literal storm, or even a figurative storm concerning important political issues, but a storm with the kind of wind that gave Chicago its nickname: Blowhard senators from both sides of the aisle are engaging in worthless posturing and asking either Republican cupcake-questions of Judge Alito or Democratic queries that can be phrased a million different ways, with the potential justice predictably squirming out of answering every single one.

This is what the U.S. Supreme Court Senate hearings have boiled down to. They are intended to be a fair and dignified process to learn about nominees and form one’s own opinion of a man or woman who, if confirmed, will sit on America’s highest court for the length of his or her life or until he or she has had his or her legal hunger sated-whichever comes first.

But the current hearings and the vamping leading up to them are neither fair nor dignified. The process is now so scripted and obvious that it’s worthless to get worked up over it, to cover it in the press and, in reality, to even have it.

In today’s modern media, potential nominees have volumes of (mostly incriminating) biographical information written about them before the president even makes his pick. Even though the general public may not have been familiar with John Roberts, Alito or even Harriet Miers at the time of their nominations, the legal and political communities sure were.

Alito’s nomination brought thunderous applause from Republicans and quick scorn from Democrats. What else would you expect?

How about some fairness?

When Ronald Reagan nominated Robert Bork in 1987, Ted Kennedy launched an all-out assault on the nominee virtually hours after the announcement. Bork’s fate was sealed before he even got to the hearings, where his views fell on ears that had already decided how they were going to vote.

Miers never even got her day in “court,” having fallen to the cull of a right-wing axe that didn’t want to trust the Senate to make a decision on whether or not Bush’s pick was worthy of approval.

These pre-hearing attacks or sweeping support-depending on one’s position-have forced the nominees to attempt to portray themselves as blandly as possible during questioning and pre-hearing interviews to appeal to everyone. But they end up pleasing nobody.

Question after question about important topics are answered with, “I have not formed an opinion on that,” or, “I don’t recall doing anything ever in my life.”

So what you get in the hearings (if a nominee is lucky enough to get there) is just a bunch of squabbling, self-important, agenda-toting senators asking questions they know won’t be answered satisfactorily. Or senators like Hatch or Kyl asking, “Do you think minorities should be allowed to attend college?”

Does Diane Feinstein honestly think that Alito will turn to her after 45 minutes of badgering and say, “OK, Diane, you got me. I would overturn Roe v. Wade in a New Jersey minute. Screw choice, and screw you!”?

It’s an exercise in futility, and unlike physical exercise, nobody gains anything from this corrupt and worthless process.