[NOTE: If you've just arrived here from Slate and are looking for the reference to crying, scroll down to the comments on Tom Coburn.]
I'm going to try to TiVo-blog the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. I detest listening to Senators speaking, but maybe by blogging along I can force myself to tolerate it.
Arlen Specter. Sorry, I was making a grilled cheese sandwich while he was talking. The one thing that struck me enough to remember until I got back to my keyboard was how wounded he sounded about the way the Supreme Court didn't didn't defer to Congress in the Violence Against Women Act case.
Patrick Leahy. I got my first out-loud laugh when Leahy just started reading the whole Preamble of the Constitution to Roberts. Then he kept saying "We the People" as many times as he could. Roberts has a really intense expression on his face — shots of him are making me think of some of the closeups of Maria Falconetti.
Orrin Hatch. He begins with a paean to William Rehnquist, and now, when the camera shows Roberts, he's looking truly joyful. Either he loved WR or he's just really glad not to have to listen to We-the-People Leahy anymore. I'd never noticed Hatch's accent before, but now I hear him say: "You've had two herrings before this committee." (Actually, I think it's not Hatch's accent. He's just garbling some of the speech he's reading.)
Ted Kennedy. He drags in Katrina. (So did Leahy.) The hurricane revealed poverty and inequity. "There are real and serious reasons to be deeply concerned about Judge Roberts' writings." The hearing are his "interview with the American people." The burden on him is "especially heavy." Why? Because they didn't get all the documents they asked for.
Chuck Grassley. The hearing to confirm Justice White only took 15 minutes. Why are the hearings so long now? TV! And now we've got the internet. Grassley mentions BLOGS! Sound the alarm! He tells Roberts that his experience arguing before the Court "bodes very well in terms of your smoodly transitioning into the Court." Smoodly? You know, if they can't even bother to pay attention to what they are saying, why should we listen?
Joe Biden. My, is he tan! He launches into an intense harangue about the how much the Constitution protects "human dignity and human liberty" and how great is the "consensus" about the right of privacy. Roberts has that passionate Falconetti look about him again. It was Biden who most deeply wounded Judge Bork, years ago, with the same sort of statements he's making now about police in the bedroom and the like. First mention of the dreaded "Constitution in Exile."
Jon Kyl. Looks and sounds good. Repeats themes I've heard too many times — Roberts doesn't need to answer all the questions, etc.
Herb Kohl. My son Chris (age 22) just came home. He looks at the TV and says, "Hey, that's our Senator." He watches for about eight seconds, then bursts out laughing and says: "What is the point of them lecturing him like this?" I just say, "Yeah, I know." Kohl says his standard for voting on a judicial nominee is "judicial excellence," which he proceeds to define as containing four elements. Chris says, "'Judicial excellence.' What bullsh*t." Kohl says: "Justice, after all, may be blind, but it should not be deaf." Me: groan.
Mike DeWine. First mention (I think) of using international law in constitutional interpretation.
Dianne Feinstein. The only woman on the committee begins by addressing Roberts' family, soothing their feelings: Don't feel bad if we really push this family member of yours, of whom you are justly proud. Why does the one woman on the committee have to be the one that talks to the wife? It's got to be the woman who takes care of feelings, doesn't it? Yet all the guys are pontificating as much as possible about women's rights. She reads her speech too slowly, and Specter ends up calling time on her just as she's in the middle of an elaborate description of a monument she saw recently in Budapest.
Jeff Sessions. He comes out against post-modernism. Words have meaning, he informs us.
Russ Feingold. I don't know why Wisconsin gets two Senators on the committee, but we do. Feingold gets the first laugh I hear from the assembled crowd, when he comments that Roberts looks "healthy," after pointing out that Roberts is up for a lifetime appointment. Roberts and his wife both look like they think it's highly amusing. Of course, Feingold's setting up his statement about how intense the scrutiny ought to be. Of all the Senators, Feingold makes the most articulate argument for why Roberts should answer detailed questions. He's the best speaker on the committee — probably the smartest too.
Lindsey Graham. "Elections matter," Graham says, making what is, I would say, the key point. George Bush won the election, and he won saying quite clearly what sort of judges he would appoint. Bush has now nominated someone with stellar professional qualifications, and the only grounds to oppose him would seem to be ideological. And that's simply not enough. "We shouldn't invalidate elections."
Charles Schumer. This Chief Justiceship would bring Roberts "awesome responsibility, awesome not in the way my teenage daughter would use the word, but in the Biblical sense of the angels trembling in the presence of God." I wonder if his daughter actually does go around saying "awesome" and if she approved of that line. Chances are someone on the staff wrote that and thought it was good comedy, though that "angels trembling/presence of God" part was a real laugh-killer. Or do you think someone thought that was good comedy too? Schumer says his vote is going to depend on whether Roberts turns out to be in the "mainstream." This is, I think, the first invocation of the term "mainstream." And, of course, we all know that this is a set-up for his closing speech, where he informs us that he came to the hearings with an open mind but has been deeply disturbed to discover over the course of the hearings that John Roberts is not in the mainstream and, therefore, sadly, he must vote no. Schumer sternly warns Roberts that he must answer specific questions and flatly tells him he will vote no if Roberts does not. I think we know very well that Schumer will vote no.
John Cornyn. "Everything's been said, but not everyone has said it yet," he jokes about his late appearance in the order of speaking. Of all the Senators, Cornyn makes the most articulate argument for why Roberts should not answer detailed questions. So he's Feingold's counterpart. He tells Cornyn, "Don't take the bait." Don't give them what they insist you must.
Dick Durbin. A judge ought to expand freedom and be courageous about it.
Sam Brownback. Hey, the person next to him has the NYT crossword there on the table. A Monday puzzle — can't while away too many minutes with a mere Monday puzzle. Brownback makes what is by far the strongest anti-abortion statement.
Tom Coburn. "When I ponder our country and its greatness, its weaknesses, its potential, my heart aches for less divisiveness," he says and pauses a long time, choking back tears. "He's crying?!" I exclaim. We rewind the TiVo and play it again and, I'm sorry to say, laugh a lot. After the long pause, he goes on: "...less polarization, less fingerpointing, less bitterness, less mindless partisanship." You know, I agree! I feel very strongly about all of those things. But crying in a Senate hearing speech, moving yourself to tears? I'm sorry. I laughed a lot.
Finally, the opening statements are over. Now, Richard Lugar, sitting next to Roberts, presents Roberts to the committee. It's Lugar because he's from Indiana, like Roberts. Following on is Evan Bayh, also of Indiana (and very nice looking!). Then John Warner takes a stern tone with the committee, telling them that they need to watch how they conduct themselves.
And at last! It's Roberts! He raises his right hand to take the oath and huge waves of camera shutters fire off.
John Roberts. "Nobody ever went to a ballgame to see the umpire." Judges are umpires. They need to be "modest" about what their role is. The rule of law. "A government of laws and not of men." Beautifully said. "I come to the committee with no agenda... I have no agenda, but I do have a commitment." He's saying exactly what a judge should say. "It's my job to call balls and strikes and not to pitch or bat." The fields of Indiana represented for him "the limitless possibilities of our great land." You know if I were stranded in the cornfields of Indiana, I would not have perceived limitless hope. And who knows if he really did, as opposed to thinking get me the hell out of this mindnumbing flatland? But it's a pretty (albeit dubious) image. Hey! Suddenly, he's done! The coolest thing about that is how short he made it!
And the committee shuts down until tomorrow.
ADDED: For Day 2 TiVo-blogging, go here.