How do I get to the Supreme Court? Smile a lot, talk a little

WASHINGTON – Keep a smile on your face. Don’t talk too much. Avoid the news media.

It’s the advice Supreme Court nominees have heard for decades from the guides that presidents choose to help steer nominees through the Senate confirmation process.

Federal Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, chosen by President Joe Biden for the court, likely received similar advice from his aide, former Alabama senator Doug Jones, for one-on-one meetings she had with senators. and for his confirmation hearing that opens Monday.

‘Stay away, be on time and keep your mouth shut’ is what Republican Tom Korologos says he told hundreds of candidates for executive and judicial positions, including the Court supreme, whom he guided for decades in and out of the federal government.

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“It’s a mysterious art to teach a brilliant Bork, a brilliant Scalia, and a brilliant Rehnquist how to behave at a confirmation hearing when you’re in front of a group of senators, some of whom may not like you,” Korologos said in an interview. .

Because of the high stakes involved – a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land, sometimes with the possibility of shaping one’s ideological orientation – modern presidents have assembled teams of advisers to help ease a candidate’s journey through an exhausting and time-consuming process that has become increasingly contentious.

A guide’s job often falls to an experienced Washington hand and combines several roles into one: coach, confidant, Capitol Hill and administration liaison, traffic cop, and strategist with the sole purpose of helping the candidate to gain confirmation. But this is not always a given, as history has shown.

Korologos guided the late Supreme Court justices William Rehnquist and Antonin Scalia to confirmation. But he suffered a defeat to the late federal judge Robert Bork, whom the Senate rejected in 1987 for a High Court seat.

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In Jackson’s case, Biden tapped Jones to help guide the 51-year-old federal appeals court judge through the process. If confirmed by the Senate, Jackson will become the first black woman to serve on the Supreme Court in its more than 232-year history.

White House attorney Dana Remus said Jones, himself an attorney, was the “perfect choice” because of the relationships he developed on both sides during a short stint in the Senate that ended in 2021 after losing a bid to be elected to a full term in the Senate.

“He’s very beloved by R&D, with good reason,” Remus told The Associated Press. “She’s such a warm and engaging person.”

Jones travels from Senate desk to Senate desk with Jackson and a White House entourage, briefing her on what to expect from each senator and often joining in small chat before and after meetings. She has met with 44 senators from both parties, including all 22 members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, in the three weeks since Biden announced her pick.

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“These discussions have been engaging and respectful that showcase his extraordinary qualifications, experience, intelligence and character,” Jones said in a statement Thursday.

Stephanie Cutter, a veteran Democratic strategist who mentored Justice Sonia Sotomayor, said Supreme Court nominees should decline interview requests to avoid saying anything that might be taken out of context and become so problematic. that this jeopardizes the nomination.

A candidate’s court opinions, other writings and speeches provide their opponents with plenty to chew on, she said.

“You don’t want to add anything new to it,” Cutter said during a recent Politico podcast.

jackson wrote nearly 600 reviews as a federal trial and appellate judge. Her nomination questionnaire is over 2,000 pages and the Judiciary Committee has access to over 12,000 pages from the Sentencing Commission, where she once served.

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She’s been on a charm offensive since Biden announced it Feb. 25, meeting individually with as many of the 100 senators as she can before the hearing, which will consume most of next week. She will spend at least two days answering questions from members of the Judiciary Committee before the Senate vote on her nomination.

“It’s something they need to be prepared for before they jump into it,” said Dan Coats, a former Republican U.S. senator from Indiana who helped guide Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers until to step down after encountering bipartisan opposition. President George W. Bush then nominated Judge Samuel Alito, and Coats helped him secure confirmation.

Coats said his team’s motto was ‘three months of hell, a job for life’ – a reminder that ‘it’ll be over in three months and then no one will bother you for the rest of your life’.

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The schedule has, however, tightened considerably since Alito’s confirmation in January 2006.

Republicans rushed Amy Coney Barrett, the court’s newest judge, through the process about a month after her nomination by President Donald Trump. She joined the court just before the November 2020 election, which Trump lost.

Democrats are eyeing an equally quick process for Jackson, hoping she can be confirmed by mid-April to succeed retired Justice Stephen Breyer. White House officials working on his nomination declined to discuss their process in detail.

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Coats said his team meets at the White House every morning to review the list of senators the nominee is scheduled to see that day and go over their known concerns, anticipate questions and hash out answers. The team met again afterwards to discuss how things went.

He said he advised Alito to “keep a smile on your face”.

“It was the best unpaid job I’ve ever had,” Coats said of his time as a guide.

Korologos said he always advises nominees “to have the passion and enthusiasm of an opening, inspiring and noble speech” in their responses, but at the same time to “say nothing”.

He encouraged them to show deference to senators and to follow one of his most important tips, what he calls the “80-20 rule.”

In Korologos’ opinion, a candidate is “winning” if the senators on the committee do 80% of the talking. A ratio of 60 to 40 means that the candidate is “arguing” and is “in trouble”.

At 50-50, it’s over. They “missed,” Korologos said.

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