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At the end of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on the nomination of Samuel Alito to the U.S. Supreme Court, Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., D.-Del, a committee member, declared the hearing process “broken.” The senator lamented that yet another high court nominee had stonewalled his way through yet another hearing without providing substantive answers. What Biden failed to mention is that the hearing format is flawed, at least in part, because of senators like him who fail to ask concise, probing questions, and then fail to follow them up with still more exacting questions. It’s called “cross-examination,” and it can help isolate a nominee’s past actions and positions on an array of critical legal issues. It’s common knowledge that Alito was coached by a so-called “murder board,” or a detailed rehearsal process that prepared him for the rigors of the Senate hearings. We would suggest that the senators on the Judiciary Committee go through a similar process that concentrates on reducing the self-serving theatrics that crippled the latest hearing. A more disciplined hearing will ensure that the next time around, lawmakers and the public will be spared at least some of the futility of interpreting cryptic answers like hieroglyphics from an ancient world.

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