Opinion: With Kevin Spacey as Patrick Leahy


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I’m a big believer in simulations. For most of my career I have moonlighted (or, as with my current early-morning gig at George Washington University, mornlighted) as a university journalism instructor. One of my most useful teaching tools, if I do say so myself, is a mock news conference at which a newly appointed ‘special assistant to the president for youth affairs’ (impersonated by a series of glib twentysomethings) answers questions from students about his plans for the job (a ‘listening tour’ of college campuses), his embarrassing past opinions (excavated from a bogus database) and his personal background (including a marijuana rap). I prefer a simulated press conference to a real one with say, a city council member, because it works better pedagogically. Students tend to be tongue-tied in the presence of a real politico, however small-time.

But a journalism class isn’t a Supreme Court confirmation, which is why I’m distressed to read that Judge Sonia Sotomayor, like previous nominees, apparently will be put though the mock Senate confirmation hearings by the Obama White House. These rehearsals are known as ‘murder boards,’ and Harriet Miers’ performance in such simulations reportedly contributed to the demise of her nomination.


It’s fine for presidential candidates to engage in role-playing before debates, and allow staffers to shape their answers and critique their deportment. Campaign gurus, like congressional aides, are part of a politician’s extended family. The relationship between the White House and a Supreme Court nominee is, or should be, different. Apparently President Obama was scrupulous about not asking Sotomayor about her view of Roe v. Wade, for fear of conditioning her appointment on a promise that she would vote a particular way on a contested issue. Is it any less troublesome from a separation-of-powers perspective for Obama’s aides to stage-manage Sotomayor’s presentation of what are supposed to be her own views?

Let the woman speak for herself, and leave the role-playing to computer geeks and journalism professors.