THE difference between the way in which Britain and the United States of America choose their most senior judges could not be greater. In fact, it is quite difficult to know how High Court judges are chosen in Britain but whatever the due process the general public learns almost nothing of it until the names of new judges are announced. By contrast, in America the final stages of appointment to the Supreme Court proceed in the most public way imaginable. Currently President Obama's nomination to fill a rare vacancy on the Supreme Court is being grilled in front of television cameras by the Judiciary Committee of the Senate. This is Sonia Sotomayor, a New York federal judge who will become the first Hispanic to serve on the country's highest judiciary if her nomination is confirmed by the Committee after hearings expected to last about a week. Republican senators have been combing through judge Sotomayor's rulings on issues such as abortion, the death penalty, same-sex marriage and cases involving racial discrimination, in the hope that they can find some evidence that she is unsuitable to sit on the Supreme Court. The process is far from dignified, given that anyone nominated for the Supreme Court should in principle be given the benefit of the doubt. Nor do the photographers, crawling about on all fours during the proceedings, add much to atmosphere. But the important thing is that the process is in public and transparent. In Britain it isn't.


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