Comiskey, Michael

views updated

Comiskey, Michael

(Charles Comiskey, Charles Michael Comiskey)




Office—Pennsylvania State University, Fayette Campus, 1 University Dr., P.O. Box 519, Uniontown, PA 15410. E-mail—[email protected].


Pennsylvania State University, Fayette, associate professor of political science.


Seeking Justices: The Judging of Supreme Court Nominees, University Press of Kansas (Lawrence, KS), 2004.


In Seeking Justices: The Judging of Supreme Court Nominees, Michael Comiskey examines the process through which nominees for Supreme Court appointments are confirmed. As he shows, there is sharp disagreement about whether it is appropriate for a nominee's political views to be part of the confirmation process. The legalist school argues that this is inappropriate and that confirmation hearings should instead focus solely on the nominee's legal credentials. The political school, by contrast, insists that it is not only appropriate, but necessary, that the Senate examine a nominee's political views.

Comiskey supports the political school's view, finding no constitutional or historical basis for the legalists' position. Writing in The Legal Intelligencer, Kenneth Jost observed that Seeking Justices "fills the need [for a fresh analysis of the confirmation process] admirably." Jost commended Comiskey's discussion of the confirmation hearings on controversial nominees such as Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas, adding that "careful examination of a nominee's views, Comiskey argues, is ‘a salutary democratic check.’ A justice seated without an examination of his or her views, he says, would be no more legitimate than a presidential nominee chosen in the back rooms of a party convention."

Contrary to some strongly held beliefs, Comiskey writes, the politicization of the confirmation process has not caused a decline in the quality of Supreme Court justices. Furthermore, while he concedes that political questioning can cause nominees to be quite reticent, sometimes resulting in confirmation of nominees with distinct political agendas, Comiskey finds that the politicized process cannot give presidents the power to pack the Court completely. Nor, in his view, is the politicization of the confirmation process likely to result in a Supreme Court with an extremist makeup. Praising Comiskey's thorough research, Leah A. Murray wrote in the Presidential Studies Quarterly that Comiskey "makes a compelling case that ideological vetting of nominees is the appropriate method for democratically checking the Court and that the ideological scrutiny of nominees leads to greater legitimacy for the Supreme Court when it delivers sometimes undemocratic and controversial rulings."

While generally praising Comiskey's analysis, Law and Politics Book Review critic Kevin J. McMahon found that "at times, … Comiskey's eagerness to assert that the process is not ‘overpoliticized,’ dominated by the president, or otherwise broken causes him to overreach." As the critic went on to point out, Comiskey undermines this argument to some extent by emphasizing that Presidents Johnson, Nixon, Reagan, and George H.W. Bush consistently nominated individuals with questionable qualifications and highly controversial beliefs. "Comiskey seems to favor the current process precisely because it cautions against the appointment of radical conservatives bent on transforming constitutional law," McMahon added. "And when presidents ignore this lesson, he seems pleased that the process has given them fits."

According to Perspectives on Political Science contributor Robert W. Langran, Comiskey's most interesting chapter is on the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings. "After delving deeply into all of the participants," the critic wrote, "Comiskey holds that the confirmation was made possible by a coalition of forces: the president, conservatives, Senate moderates, and, finally, the group that did not choose to oppose the appointment because of the overwhelming power of race in the confirmation."

Writing in the Historian, Cornell W. Clayton observed that Comiskey "argues persuasively that ‘the modern confirmation process’ has led to a more robust constitutional dialogue and the appointment of able justices, while avoiding the appointment of extremists." Comiskey, the critic added, "may well be right that the modern process, for all its faults, is a salutary development during a period of deep constitutional schism such as that of late twentieth- and early twenty-first-century America." Reviewing Seeking Justices in the Political Science Quarterly, Ronald Stidham called the book "must reading for anyone wishing to better understand the process of selecting Supreme Court justices."



Comiskey, Michael, Seeking Justices: The Judging of Supreme Court Nominees, University Press of Kansas (Lawrence, KS), 2004.


Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, April, 2005, P. Lermack, review of Seeking Justices, p. 1472.

Historian, spring, 2006, Cornell W. Clayton, review of Seeking Justices.

Journal of Supreme Court History, November, 2005, D. Grier Stephenson, review of Seeking Justices, p. 284.

Judicature, January 1, 2005, Albert P. Melone, review of Seeking Justices, p. 185.

Law and Politics Book Review, May, 2005, Kevin J. McMahon, review of Seeking Justices.

Law and Social Inquiry, spring, 2005, "The Judging of Supreme Court Nominees."

Legal Intelligencer, January 7, 2005, "New Book Picks on the Picking Process."

Perspectives on Political Science, winter, 2005, Robert W. Langran, review of Seeking Justices, p. 48.

Political Science Quarterly, fall, 2005, Ronald Stidham, review of Seeking Justices.

Presidential Studies Quarterly, December, 2005, Leah A. Murray, review of Seeking Justices, p. 798.

Recorder, December 17, 2004, "Picking on the Process of Picking."


H-Net: Humanities and Social Sciences Online, (April, 2006), Matthew L. Harris, review of Seeking Justices.

About this article

Comiskey, Michael

Updated About content Print Article