07/06/2005 04:33 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Supreme Questions

So just what can and can’t be asked of a Supreme Court nominee? Sadly, there is no Judicial Miss Manners to lay out the do’s and don’ts of proper confirmation hearings etiquette. So Senate Republicans and White House sources have helpfully begun providing some parameters. It seems that it boils down to this: the nominee can be asked about anything… as long as it has absolutely nothing to do with jurisprudence.

According to Senate Judiciary Committee stalwart Jeff Sessions, “You cannot ask a judge to prejudge a specific matter.”

The Bush administration apparently agrees, with a senior White House official telling the N.Y. Times: “There has been a long-term standard that the appropriateness of questioning does not include asking judges to take specific sides or positions regarding cases they may hear one day.” (The president himself seems less certain, telling USA Today that the hearings should “focus on the nominee’s credentials and philosophy”).

Maybe by “philosophy” he meant outlook on life -- y’know, is the potential Supreme a glass half-full or half-empty kind of person? -- as opposed to ‘judicial philosophy’, which would clearly violate the no-actual-opinions allowed dictum.

Or maybe the president has been confused by the full-frontal attack that’s been launched on his pal Alberto Gonzales by his supporters on the right -- an attack based almost entirely on the AG’s perceived views on specific matters… namely Roe v. Wade.

So this is how it goes: salad fork on the left, knife on the right… and ideology can be used in the process of blackballing a potential nominee but not once that nominee has been sent to the Senate for its advice and consent.

For those of you who are still confused about what is and isn’t a proper line of questioning -- especially you Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee (and, yes, I’m talking to you Chuck “All Questions Are Legitimate” Schumer) -- I have, through my White House sources, been slipped the following list of approved questions (And for any special prosecutors out there, I will never divulge the source of this leaked information… not even in an email to Lawrence O’Donnell):

“Given your experience as a judge, and drawing upon your years of legal training, who do you like better on Desperate Housewives, Bree, Gabrielle or Edie?”

“Do you think Randy Johnson has lost it now that he’s with the Yankees?” (Optional follow-up: “Should Bernie Williams be playing center field more?”)

“Do you think these pants make me look fat?”

Do you love America? (Optional follow-up: And do you also “support the troops?”

“Aren’t puppies cute?”

“Do you think it’s the heat, or the humidity, or some combination of both?”

“Do you think Tom really loves Katie, or is the whole thing some sort of publicity stunt?”

“Why are the things you sit in at a stadium called ‘stands’?”

“Did you think it was pretty cool when that space ship rammed that comet?”

“Do you believe in the principle ‘Liquor after beer, you're in the clear. Beer after liquor, never sicker’?” [Warning: this one borders on “philosophy” and so will need special clearance from the president]

“What size robe you gonna need?”

There you have it. Let the hearings begin!