I’d like to consider the latter metaphor. If a Senate confirmation hearing really does resemble a job interview, what forces go into similar interviews? Anybody who’s looked for work recently knows, tension exists between what hiring directors claim a job interview consists of, and what actually happens. Hiring professionals want us to believe they impartially consider an applicant’s qualifications, credentials, experience, and temperament, and choose the most qualified person.
That’s the theory anyway.
In practice, job interviews turn on invisible qualities. These qualities are both subjective, and completely anecdotal. After being denied the same promotion three times at my last job, I asked HR what had happened. They said, because I didn’t take my breaks in the company breakroom (which was crowded, noisy, and by Friday often smelled like a locker room), they didn’t believe I was a “team player” and wouldn’t participate in group decision making.
Many researchers have dubbed the most important factor “affinity.” This basically means that hiring professionals select applicants who most resemble themselves: shared values, common experiences, even physical resemblances. If you attended the same kind of college as the decision maker, or have a similar economic background, your chances improve markedly. This is also why men hire men, white people hire white people, and Harvard grads hire Harvard grads.
|Yeah, it's safe to say Justice Kavanaugh resembles Senator Graham|
Scholars have written extensively about the affinity effect. Two sources should be sufficient: here and here. The continued similarity of ethnic, racial, sexual identity, and gender outcomes in American business reflects that hiring still gets done by white, cishet, middle-class men with college educations. And these HR directors mostly pick people who resemble themselves. Fairness makes an admirable goal, but remains mostly unattainable.
We all do it. It’s hard not to. Chances are, your co-workers, best friends, and spouse all resemble you in age, race, economic background, and (within limits) gender. As researcher Alison Wolf writes, outside the single top economic quintile, most job fields are starkly segregated by gender. Most towns with multiple racial populations know weekends are heavily segregated: there tend to be White, Black, and Hispanic bars, restaurants, and churches.
This applies to Congress, too. Though the current 115th Congress is “is the most racially diverse in history” according to USNews.com, that isn’t saying much. The current Senate is less than one-quarter female, and more than ninety percent white. Neither number reflects America’s actual racial or gender breakdown. Though an exact mirror of America’s demography is likely impossible, the gap nevertheless is remarkable.
Brett Kavanaugh resembles the Senate that narrowly confirmed him: White, male, heterosexual, Christian, college-educated, and relatively well-off. Based on the affinity principle, we shouldn’t be surprised. Of the nine current Justices, six are men; seven are White. Six are Christian (five Catholic), three are Jewish. The court has never had a professing atheist, Mormon, or Muslim; it’s had exactly one self-described agnostic, Benjamin Cardozo, from 1932-1938.
So yeah, the Court resembles the Senate. Kavanaugh is recipient of such continuing affinity.
In fairness, the Senate isn’t dominated by accused sex criminals. Al Franken, the only sitting Senator in the 115th Congress accused of sexual misconduct, resigned under massive bipartisan pressure. But a willingness to overlook sexual allegations has become an American political standard since 2016. President Donald Trump has seventeen pending allegations of unwanted sexual contact or peeping Tom-ism.
If a Senate hearing really resembles a job interview, therefore, that doesn’t instill much hope in me. Real-life job interviews since the collapse of 2007-2008 have seen me rejected as both underqualified and overqualified from jobs with no listed mandatory qualifications. They’ve seen me rejected as insufficiently extroverted from jobs that had nothing to do with being gregarious. They’ve seen me… well, the list continues. Basically, I don’t resemble the interviewers enough.
Future appointments like Kavanaugh’s need a better metaphor. He wasn’t on trial, so that tight standard doesn’t apply, but job interviews have loose, sloppy standards that also don’t apply to something so important as a Supreme Court seat. I don’t readily know what metaphor would make better sense. But we’d better decide that soon, because Justices Thomas and Ginsberg aren’t getting any younger.