September 12, 2005

"Committee members see a chance to polish their images and push their agendas."

That's a subheadline that appears in the paper version of this New York Times article about the confirmation hearings for John Roberts, which begin today. I think that says it all.
The hearings are to begin at noon, with opening statements from each senator and then from Judge Roberts. The formal questioning will not begin until Tuesday.

I heard on the radio that those opening statements are going to be a half hour each. There are 18 Senators on the committee. I know it's easy to do the math, but I've got to scream out it pain:

That's nine hours!

Oh, but the Senators really need to burnish their image!

Well, good luck, guys and Dianne. Do you seriously think anyone will watch? I'm about as interested in the Supreme Court as a sane person can be and have been eagerly awaiting a new appointment for years, plus I've got this blog and this TiVo. Yet I have a hard time picturing myself putting up with all that crap.

The Judiciary Committee hearings are this horrible, hulking, bloated mass of blather. And here's John Roberts, who's honed his style in half hour arguments before the Supreme Court, where your opening lasts — what? — a minute before they challenge you with questions, to which you must supply perfect, crisp answers to make your points as your few precious minutes run out. And he'll have to sit there, controlling his facial expressions and not fidgeting before those Senators who have no rational conception of time. They'll fill up the entire day with political speeches, which no one wants to hear. A few journalists will wade through to find some passage to use in the news reports. Or do they even bother? Surely, they get paper copies of the speeches in advance. Presumably, the quotable lines are highlighted. And then we'll just listen to whatever the newsfolk extract from the morass for normal people to sample.

Sorry I'm so jaded already. But I am excited about the fact that this is the first time there is a Supreme Court confirmation hearing with bloggers around to cut through the crap. So I'm going to do my part. I'm setting the TiVo. Maybe we bloggers can find a way to do something different. We really must.

UPDATE: Well, the radio either got it wrong or I heard it wrong, but per Senator Specter, starting off the hearings, each of the 18 committee members will have 10 minutes to do an opening. So a mere THREE HOURS of Senatorial wind. Whew! What a relief!


Steve Donohue said...

Maybe the speeches are really an attempt to filibuster Roberts. I'm sure that in some 1742 handbook of parliamentary regulations, there's a rule that says that proposed nominees cannot take a drink, stand up, use the washroom, speak to their counsels, or "space out" (OK, maybe not in those words) without the nomination being immediately nullified, and use of this provision shall allow the power to nominate the next justice to pass to Ralph Neas. Hey, it’s what the founding fathers wanted!

Or perhaps the plan is to spew nonsense for so long that Roberts becomes impelled to bark "SHUT UP!" in the middle of Dick Durbin's harangue, thereby proving that he has little judicial temperament.

Nick said...

I think it's pretty obvious by this timeline that the Senators know his being voted in is a foregone conclusion. So with that realization, they've decide to stand on their soap boxes, because Robert's answers to their questions are pretty irrelevent.

I'm not saying that its a good attitude to have, but it seems to be the one they've taken.

SteveR said...

Well Ann you sometimes ask people how much they'd pay you to do something, in this case you'd have to pay me a lot just to care what anyone on that commitee says. Wake me up when its over.

Simon said...

Isn't there any way that Roberts could just say to the committee, off the record, "you know, you guys are just talking to the cameras anyway, you have your day today, I'll see you on tuesday". I mean, is there any reason why he has to sit through nine hours of prolix partisan bullsh*t that has absolutely nothing to do with his nomination?

Alternatively, couldn't Specter just say "okay, each Senator will get to ask one question, which can take no longer than five minutes, after which Judge Roberts will answer, and then another Senator gets to ask a question"? No? Shame...

On the plus side, anger is good for the heart rate, and there's nothing quite like watching Joe Biden talk about the constitution for thirty minutes to make an originalist incandescently angry.

Simon said...

I'm sure that in some 1742 handbook of parliamentary regulations, there's a rule that says that proposed nominees cannot take a drink, stand up, use the washroom, speak to their counsels, or "space out" without the nomination being immediately nullified

Didn't Scalia smoke a pipe throughout his hearings? I mean, looking back, he did seem unusually chilled out, so perhaps he had loaded the pipe with, ahem, something to take the edge off the Senators. Of course, these days, lighting up in a Federal building will probably earn you a prison term, so that option's probably out.

There's a wonderful quote, I can't remember who its from, that United States Senators take the business of being a United States Senator very, very seriously; so much so that they would wear togas to work if they thought they could get away with it. Pause to contemplate a mental image of Sen. Landrieu in a toga, but keep it balanced with an image of Sen. Stevens in the same.

Crank said...

Bookmark this entry for the next time someone asks you why Senators don't win presidential elections.

Roberts should take some heavy tranquilizers after his opening statement, so he can sit there looking like Jack Nicholson at the end of "One Flew Over the Cukoo's Nest." Actually, one thing that may be difficult for him to do is not take notes, which we litigators do by habit in this sort of setting.

Another thought: this would be better training for a District Court judge, whose job involves a lot of sitting on the bench listening to lawyers and witnesses, often very dull ones.

PS - I think it was Lileks who said that about the togas, but I could be wrong.

Pastor_Jeff said...

Just imagine sitting through 18 of the worst, most irrelevant, pompous and painfully boring sermons, one after the other. Doesn't the 8th amendment apply here?

Simon said...

Hilariously, Senator Leahy just demanded that Judge Roberts use the court to clobber the executive branch, only seconds after demanding that Judge Roberts give Congress far broader deference than the Constitution permits. This is going to be a LONG week, and I can't help feel that, having realized just how horrific this is going to be, we should all immediatley send a "with deepest sympathies" card to Judge Roberts.

WisJoe said...

I agree that the speechifying is tedious. Nonetheless, he is being nominated for a lifetime position, and given the Senate's high regard for decorum and process, which I think generally serves the country well (e.g., do we really need a flag-burning amendment?), I think we all and Judge Roberts in particular can live with a little pontification.

Just a humble opinion from a former UW law student.

Pat Patterson said...

Getting a half hour speech on TV, so what if it is C-Span, is a time honored Senatorial version of resume padding. Senators and B-actors feverishly total up minutes filmed as a way of proving that they exsist and that they are worthy of better parts or higher political office. In each senator's office there is probably some private office that the senator can retreat to and view their history of sound bites. Too not expect them to speak on national TV for 30 minutes is akin to watching to the west for the morning sun.

Coco said...

As a way-too-common C-span watcher, I can say that what will occur today is not really different than any committee hearing. The only real difference is that the press will actually report on what's going nauseum.

I often ask myself why I watch C-SPAN so much and I think the sanswer is that other than sports its the best reality TV available. If anything, it gives you insights as to which of our elected officials seem bright and vice versa. Its often the vice versa that I see but the "thrill" of "did he/she just say that?" just hooks me in.

vnjagvet said...

So far as boring as you predicted. Thankfully, these seem to be going less than 30 minutes a piece.

Someone did a good job for Teddy. While I have had little respect for his accomplishments over the past twenty or so years, he does have good speech writers.

WisJoe said...

"The Judiciary Committee hearings are this horrible, hulking, bloated mass of blather."

Similarly, blogs are often a horrible, hulking bloated mass of blather.

vnjagvet said...

Russ wasn't bad, except for his argument about the memos from the SG's office. Disingenuous.

somross said...

You guys don't spend enough time at civic meetings. Even a very local legislature is often loaded with aldermanic types who blather on for as long as they are allowed, especially when meetings are televised. This is a chance for each to give a speech and be seen, so they're going to do it. It would be contrary to the nature of modern politics to be pithy on television.