Roberts Hearing

There may have been the goal on the part of the eight democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee to deep-six the nomination of John Roberts to the Chief Justice’s seat on the U.S. Supreme Court. Obviously, that was the goal, but Roberts himself turned the proceeding into a dog-and-pony show that was as entertaining as any hearing seen lately, with the democrats, led by Senator “Leaky” Leahy, ranking minority member, reduced to that silly grin that must have kept his jaw muscles sore for most of the sessions. In the snippets of the proceeding seen in this corner were extraordinary examples of slack-jawed frustration rivaling even those dedicated to the enormous problem of steroids in baseball. Oh dear!!! If Palmeiro actually took the things and lied under oath, can the nation stand? Oh dear!!! If Roberts actually remembers all that stuff, will Roe/Wade, the only actual issue in the hearing, stand?

One remembers Senators Schumer and Durbin as they reacted to Roberts’ first nomination as the replacement for Associate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who retired not long before Chief Justice Rehnquist died. They made it plain that they intended to be the sharks in the water, and intimated that Roberts would struggle mightily to escape their blood-seeking incisors. They exuded the confidence of super-lawyers out to outwit even the craftiest of opponents. By the time the hearing was over, they had been reduced to sputtering whiners, reflecting a constant theme of the democrats, to wit, that they desperately needed to know the heart of the judge. Imagine. Schumer and Durbin, senatorial pit-bulls, wanted to know if Roberts was a nice guy with honorable intentions.

This, of course, went to the “heart” of the hearing, as far as the demos were concerned, because judges supposedly acting under the influence of their “hearts,” collectively or otherwise, make correct decisions, since they, as Slick Willie would have it, feel your pain. Actually, they intend for the courts to carry out judicially what they cannot ram through the Congress legislatively, thus becoming what conservatives are fond of calling “activist judges.” The Ninth Circuit in the Far West is the perfect example of this kind of “heart-heeding” jurisprudence, and as a result is overturned by the SCOTUS 75% of the time their rulings get to that level.

Roberts, besides showing a complete lack of intimidation accruing to their barking and neighing (present in any dog-and-pony show worth its salt), simply insisted over and over that his “heart” (whatever they thought that meant) would have no more influence than his spleen or thyroid gland when he made his decisions, based on the rule of law interpreted strictly by the Constitution. Their frustration at such a “cold-hearted” approach reduced them to a sort of sighing, much like the famous sighing attack Al Gore experienced in that debate with George Bush back in 2000. This proclivity for the “sighing-syndrome” might have hurt Gore; it absolutely devastated Biden, Schumer, and Durbin, who made themselves look sigh-silly. They are well known for their cutthroat approaches to governance, but couldn’t even get on the same page as Roberts. When Biden had his own remarks made during the Ginsberg hearing some 12 or so years ago read into the minutes, he wilted like a lily in a blast furnace, so completely two-faced did they make him appear…sort of a two-faced dog-and-pony show.

Strangely, in the snippets seen in this corner, the most belligerent was Senator Feingold of Wisconsin. All the demos made no effort to conceal their hostility, but Feingold came at Roberts as if Roberts was a colleague of Saddam. Whereas it was expected here that Schumer would froth at the mouth, it turned out that Feingold was the one near rabidity. His approach was sort of like that of a drill sergeant in boot camp, thus, in the dog-and-pony atmosphere of the hearing, he was the most vicious barker. Also strangely, one wonders why two senators (in the same party, at that) on such an important and relatively small committee would be from the same state (Kohl, also from Wisconsin), but then, this is the Congress, where things are often bought and sold.

With respect to neighing, Senator Biden just kinda whinnied. He was the ham, as usual (probably of any affair), complete with dramatic flourishes, an ear-to-ear smile too perfect to be anything but false, and that often condescending softness that amounted in the abstract to a pat on the head physically. He was his usual disgusting and pompous self – but, why not – after all, he’s already thrown his hat in the presidential ring for 2008, despite his reputation as the Senate’s best known plagiarist, and there’s nothing like an early start. All one need say about Kennedy is that he was his usual blustering self, sort of stopping in from the club to make a plea for the poor and the ethnic…blah, blah, blah. His chair seemed vacant a great deal of the time. Apparently, unlike his colleagues, he knew the game was up, from the get-go.

There was a rumor to the effect that Senator Durbin had come upon a “killer memo,” so in this corner there was bated breath awaiting such a find. Instead, as the clambake wound down, the subject became that of the always suspected and always distrusted and always “hard-hearted” and always insensitive (gasp) ideologue. The absolutely critical question came to the fore…was Roberts a hated ideologue? Ideology is defined thusly: a systematic body of concepts especially about human life or culture. An ideologue, obviously, is a thinker/practitioner of certain actions accruing to his notions about…well…everything. The dems obviously considered Associate Justices Scalia and Thomas as hated ideologues, and wondered if Roberts might be so foul a character. Without laughing aloud, Roberts smiled them to scorn. Imagine a question like that from Durbin or Schumer or Biden or Kennedy! These guys are the most hardened ideologues in the Senate. So what! A person without an ideology is a person who doesn’t know who he is, what he believes, or why he does what he does. Roberts, on the basis of his answer, doesn’t believe this…or does he, in that in his claim not to be an ideologue, was he operating on the Durbin/Schumer judgment that an ideologue – any ideologue – is somehow flawed, never mind that they are ideologues of the first water?

Perhaps the most amazing element in the proceeding had to do with style (or maybe intelligence). Whereas the senators arrived with documents, notebooks, writing instruments, and a bevy of aides to whisper important things in their ears, Roberts read no statements, made no notes, brought with him not one scrap of paper, printed or blank. His only prop was a glass of water. He dialogued with the senators hour upon hour about everything, referring to multitudes of cases from memory, while his interrogators sometimes frantically looked for those all important documents and memos that would surely spell doom for the nomination. Either Roberts is a con artist of enormous proportions or he was so far out the league of these senators that his performance was roughly like that of Roger Clemens throwing fastballs past Little Orphan Annie.

Not all the republicans on the committee were noticed, and they certainly did no harm. Chairman Specter huffed and puffed and tried to be gruff and parry points with Roberts, but he was overmatched. Senator Graham of South Carolina was effective and gave evidence of his own ability to be a judge. It was he who blew the “ideologue” argument so far out of the water that not a drop fell anywhere close to the hearing room.

Yeah…it was a great dog-and-pony show, but very interesting, as well. Of course, the senators took up much of their time with their pontificating and lecturing, as if Roberts didn’t know more about the law in a minute than they did in a month. But, it was great theater for the cameras, though in the final analysis one wonders how many people actually took the time to observe any of it. Prediction: Partisan voting, but confirmation a given.