Cirque du Sotomayor

If you happen to have out-of-town friends or family visiting D.C. this week, please caution them to keep a firm grip on any small children or pets they might have in tow.

The high-flying and highly contortioned judicial confirmation circus has rolled into town, and for the next several weeks I assure you there will be few, if any, places on the Senate side of the Capitol that will be OSHA-safe for human pedestrian traffic of any kind, let alone for small children running around to see the dancing bears and elephants.
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I am talking, of course, about that most unique of American political performance-art rituals, where the road to securing a prestigious lifetime gig on the highest court in the land officially commences; when the esteemed, honorable and impressively credentialed nominee is forced to schlep around the cavernous halls of the Russell Senate Office Building like some underfed, overcaffeinated gerbil in a marble maze.

The goal: to cram in as many hyper-personalized, get-to-know-you courtesy calls as humanly possible with members of the United States Senate, the de facto hiring committee for all vacancies on the Supreme Court.

I am not exactly sure how this ritual was performed 200 years ago, but the 2009 version typically includes the eager nominee, a handful of nervous White House staffers assigned as political and logistical Sherpas, a fortified dignitary-protection detail and, almost always, an evolving, impromptu coterie of curious innocents who stumble upon this moving mass of undulating humanity as it oozes down Senate hallways like a Washington-based remake of “The Blob.”

And in case that scenario is not frightening enough, trailing both behind and in front of the official blob will be an equally scary, unofficial, amorphous other blob of reporters, producers, cameras, lights and microphones from virtually every news organization on the planet. Like I said — please keep an eye out for all toes, fingers and, of course, the helpless children.

The Sonia Sotomayor courtesy-call operation commences Tuesday morning with a meeting with Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidTrump thanks Reid for warning Democrats not to underestimate him Reid warns Democrats not to underestimate Trump Harry Reid predicts Trump, unlike Clinton, won't become more popular because of impeachment MORE (D-Nev.). Then at 11:30, the nominee is scheduled to meet with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyMcConnell tees up government funding votes amid stalemate Rand Paul calls for probe of Democrats over Ukraine letter Senator questions agencies on suicide prevention, response after Epstein's death in federal custody MORE (D-Vt.) in his office on the fourth floor of the Russell Building. According to a press release, reporters will be allowed in for a photo-op at the top of the meeting, then Leahy will “briefly comment” after the session ends, at approximately noon. I expect both OSHA and the U.S. Capitol Police will be called in at approximately 12:01 p.m.

Undulating blobs or not, the Senate has been perfecting this high court application process for a long time now, and according to the Senate Historian’s office, since 1789 there have been a total of 158 nominations, with 122 confirmed and another 36 rejected, withdrawn or not acted upon. A Trivial Pursuit footnote to those stats is the fact that 17 individuals were actually nominated twice, so the 158 figure represents only 139 different names, with one person nominated three separate times.

In seriousness, despite the circus-like atmosphere that sometimes accompanies modern-day Supreme Court nominations, there is also much to be learned — even celebrated — as we go about the business of filling vacancies. And this time around promises to be no different.

Accompanying sideshow hallway performances or not, the courtesy calls and eventual confirmation hearing present us with an opportunity for a rare and teachable moment about that which is unique and rich about our political system. Of course, glorying about that which is unique and rich can sometimes be overtaken by that which is trivial and nonsensical. So probably not a bad time to simply add: “Stay tuned.”

Whether the Sotomayor nomination fight escalates or de-escalates on the grand controversy scale in the days and weeks ahead, it still presents us with a unique opportunity to enjoy a Hubble-like view of the all-important interaction between our planets of government (executive, legislative, judicial) as they celestially align for this real-time cosmic civics lesson on the magic of things like “separation of powers” and “checks and balances.”

As for the nomination process itself, I think the most insightful bit of reporting came recently when C-SPAN’S Steve Scully sat down with President Obama to talk about his (then-) upcoming pick for the court.

Scully: William Howard Taft served on the court after his presidency. Would you have any interest in being on the Supreme Court?

President Obama: You know, I am not sure that I could get through Senate confirmation.



You can reach Jim Mills at jmills@thehill.com.