At Final Day of Roberts Hearings, Hatch Snaps . . . and Snaps

The Senate Judiciary Committee debates and votes on the nomination of John G. Roberts Jr. to be chief justice of the United States.
The Senate Judiciary Committee debates and votes on the nomination of John G. Roberts Jr. to be chief justice of the United States. (By Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)
By Dana Milbank
Friday, September 23, 2005

It started around the time Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) observed that the "hearings were dignified." Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) whipped out his camera phone and snapped a photo of Leahy.

Thus began Orrin's Excellent Adventure yesterday at the Senate Judiciary Committee. As the panel voted to endorse John G. Roberts Jr.'s nomination to be chief justice, the fifth-term senator composed a digital photo album.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) complained about Democrats' "loyalty to their ideological and single-interest groups." Hatch took a picture.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) asked if Roberts would "lead us on the path of continued equality." Hatch snapped a photo.

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) announced that he had "serious doubts" about Roberts. Hatch pointed and shot.

Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) countered that Roberts "bears no ill will." Hatch closed his right eye to line up the picture.

This photojournalism evidently inspired Biden, who took out his own camera phone and shot a candid of Leahy and Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.).

In defense of the touristy tendencies of the two senators, the hearing was not exactly suspenseful. DeWine spent much of the hearing with his eyes closed; Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), judging by his yawns, seemed to be only one cup of coffee ahead of DeWine.

Indeed, the only question yesterday was not whether Roberts would be recommended to the full Senate, but whether any Democrats would vote for him (three of the eight, as it turns out).

For a while, it seemed lonely for Leahy, who announced his support for Roberts on Wednesday, the only Democrat on the committee to do so before the hearing. This managed to get him a drubbing from the left wing ("inexplicable," howled People for the American Way) but no thanks from the right wing ("cynical posturing," said a press release distributed at the hearing by the Traditional Values Coalition).

Leahy did not smile when Specter hailed his yes vote as "courageous." As Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) announced her opposition to Roberts, the man from Vermont, rested his face in his hand. When Kennedy railed against the nominee, Leahy adjusted his tie and inspected the back of his hand. When Biden added his dissent, Leahy busied himself with his BlackBerry. And when Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) delivered an anti-Roberts diatribe, Leahy looked at Roberts's handler, former senator Fred Thompson, and raised his eyebrows. Thompson smiled sympathetically.

But in the end, Leahy was joined by two other pro-Roberts Democrats, Wisconsin's Herb Kohl and Russell Feingold. And the committee took on a different hue, divided less by party than by temperament: the amiable against the belligerent.


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