Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Justicebot v. 2.0 

Dahlia Lithwick, who covers legal issues for Slate, always cracks us up -- even when we're crying on the inside. We are crying-on-the-inside especially hard as we follow the John Roberts confirmation hearings, so we are very grateful that Ms. Lithwick has upped the yock quotient in her last few reports -- especially today's, in which she chronicles the feckless efforts of hapless Democrats to take the measure of Roberts-the-Man. The gormless Democrats would no doubt prefer to be taking the measure of Roberts-the-Judge, but all such efforts have failed miserably, because Roberts-the-Judge ain't taking questions:

  • He won't answer questions about any case currently pending before the Supreme Court (abortion, right-to-die);
  • He won't answer questions about any case that might someday conceivably be pending before the Supreme Court (separation of powers, contested presidential elections);
  • He won't answer questions he's decided on the court of appeals (since they may someday conceivably be pending before the Supreme Court);
  • He won't answer questions about prior nominees (Robert Bork) because that is not appropriate;
  • He can't answer questions about general legal doctrine because they are too general;
  • He can't answer questions about specific legal doctrine because they are too specific;
  • He can't answer questions about his early memos because a robot wrote them . . . .
Then the increasingly crazed Joe Biden, D-Del., gets involved: "Does the right to privacy include the right to make the difficult decision when to no longer continue using an artificial apparatus to keep your parents alive?" Roberts cannot answer since that is "an area pending before the court."

"Just talk to me as a father," pleads Biden. Roberts says he will not consider this in the context of a father or husband. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., emotes even harder. She can't understand why he was so candid yesterday morning and then totally shut down after lunch. "Did anyone caution you?" she asks worriedly. Or did he spill iced tea on himself at lunch and short-circuit his memory bank? . . . .

It's like a bad method-acting class. Pretend your puppy's dead, judge. We'll be needing some tears here. Feinstein sticks to the dead-people theme as she names all the children who died due to guns after the court struck down the Gun-Free School Zones Act in Lopez. Silly Rabbit. Doesn't she know Vulcans only get feelings once every seven years? And then only long enough to mate? . . . .

But the kicker comes toward the end of the afternoon, when Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., apparently in some psychotic break with reality, excoriates both the Judge and the Man for refusing to give substantive answers: "It's as if I asked you, 'What kind of movies do you like?' Tell me two or three good movies.' And you say, 'I like movies with good acting. I like movies with good directing. I like movies with good cinematography.' And I ask you, 'No, give me an example of a good movie.' You don't name one. I say, 'Give me an example of a bad movie.' You won't name one. Then I ask you if you like Casablanca, and you respond by saying, 'Lots of people like Casablanca.' You tell me it's widely settled that Casablanca is one of the great movies."

Roberts is finally getting riled. But not enough to emote. He asks the chair for a little bit of extra time to defend his decision not to turn the hearings into a "bargaining process" in which he promises votes in future cases. Which means he's just waiting for Joe Biden to come at him in Round 3 with the question Peter Lorre asked Humphrey Bogart: "You despise me, don't you?"

To which Roberts, like Bogart, can reply: "Well, if I gave you any thought, I probably would."
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