Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee turned to a trusted ally from academia to advise them on the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court.
Michael Gerhardt, a professor of constitutional law at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, worked behind the scenes leading up to the Senate debate this week on whether to confirm Sotomayor. He’s a frequent commentator on Supreme Court nominations and confirmations, as the author of numerous books and law review articles and as a consultant to the Clinton White House during Justice Stephen Breyer’s nomination.
Gerhardt assisted with research on the staff of Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, a Leahy spokeswoman said. He declined to comment on the experience, writing in an e-mail that “my assignment precludes any public commentary.”
His involvement, which appears to have gone unreported so far, became clear Tuesday when he was granted privileges to appear in the Senate chamber during the Sotomayor debate. The granting of “floor privileges” is standard procedure for non-senators.
Gerhardt also had a role in the last Supreme Court nomination, when he testified (pdf) before the Judiciary Committee at the confirmation hearing for Justice Samuel Alito Jr. At the time, he told senators — including Democrats contemplating voting against Alito’s confirmation — that they should feel free to base their votes on any factors they consider pertinent, including judicial philosophy.
This summer, Gerhardt was not the only academic advising a member of the Judiciary Committee. As previously reported, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) brought on Orin Kerr, a specialist in criminal law at George Washington University.