Review: ‘Advise and Dissent’

Oct. 29, 2010, 12:32 a.m.

On Monday, the American Constitution Society and the Federalist Society of Stanford hosted a screening of “Advise and Dissent,” a feature-length documentary on the confirmation of Supreme Court justices. While “Advise and Dissent” alleges to examine the battles behind Supreme Court confirmations, it falls short of painting a full picture and chooses instead to focus on the confirmations of two conservative justices, John Roberts, Jr. and Samuel Alito. This narrowed focus, matched with lackluster editing, is ultimately the film’s downfall.

Review: 'Advise and Dissent'“Advise and Dissent” opened promisingly, with a dramatic overture accompanying historical footage of the Supreme Court decisions that have shaped America, from school integration to abortion, from affirmative action to gay rights. Depicting the shift from the more bipartisan, cooperative 1980s to the staunchly divided Congress of today, “Advise and Dissent” sought to present the dangers of a politicized judiciary. Using Senator Arlen Specter as the film’s surprisingly fitting protagonist, “Advise and Dissent” discussed the “turbulent partisanship” that makes choosing justices less about, well, justice, and more about party lines. The film offered a few moments of real personality by using shots that linger just a bit longer than we’re comfortable with, revealing the qualities behind the politicians’ facades.

But as the documentary progressed, the plot seemed to drag on longer than the film’s 82 minutes, for lack of real intrigue and wit. Furthermore, the bias of the filmmakers was poorly balanced, and the agenda behind the film became evident.

Showing clips of the fanatic and frightening Third Branch Conference, a far-right group led by uncharismatic Manuel Miranda, the documentary focused half of its attention on the conservative movement hoping to bring right-wing justices to the Supreme Court. Miranda is an easy villain for the film, as he reminisces gleefully on the influence he perceives the Third Branch Conference to have on Washington. But by focusing on Miranda, “Advise and Dissent” misses the big-picture problems: that stubborn hypocrisy runs rampant on both parties, and nominating a liberal justice is just as much a power struggle as nominating a conservative.

Unexciting editing paired with the biased focus of the filmmakers made for a lackluster documentary, which had the potential to be great but fell a few notches short. The system by which we appoint justices in this country is a fascinating one, with many faults to be addressed, but by focusing solely on the conservative justices, and not the overall corruption of the system, “Advise and Dissent” passes on the opportunity to show the joint hypocrisy which plagues Congress.

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