David Van Taylor’s exploration of the federal judicial confirmation process debuted at Washington DC’s Politics on Film Festival in 2010. The Sundance Documentary Film Program grant recipient previously came to VOD via Sundance’s Artist Services in 2012.
Topical, given the current debate over the Republicans’ blocking of Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court, Taylor’s engaging film follows two highly contested vacancies during George W Bush’s presidency resulting from Sandra Day O’Connor’s retirement and William Rehnquist’s death, and their replacement nominations, John Roberts Jr, the ill-fated Harriet Miers, and Samuel Alito. While the latter are revealed through media appearances, interviews, and for Roberts and Alito, senate confirmation hearings, Taylor instead trains his camera on two members of the Senate Judiciary Committee – its chairman, Senator Arlen Spector (then R-PA), and his collegial opponent Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) – as well as two diametrically opposed lobbyists – Ralph Neas of the progressive People For the American Way, and Manuel Miranda of the conservative Third Branch Conference – in their distinct roles in the increasingly troubling politicization of the nomination and confirmation process. Even though viewers already know the outcome, these participants’ involvement provides insightful, behind-the-scenes perspectives that reveal the growing partisan influence that threatens the separation of powers of the federal government and the impartiality of the judicial branch.