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.
The committee's two partisan bookends, Schumer and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), were in a grudge match. The New York Democrat, speaking of Republicans, condemned "extreme groups and individuals."
Cornyn fired back that Democrats were spouting "the exact opposite of the truth" and argued that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg supported legal "prostitution and polygamy, and she opposed Mother's and Father's days as discriminatory occasions."
Even after three committee Democrats endorsed Roberts, Cornyn railed that "the days of bipartisanship when it comes to supporting judicial nominees to the Supreme Court -- sadly, I believe they appear to be over."
The normally genial Grassley briefly joined the partisans. "I would like to speak to just Republican members of the committee at this particular time and not the Democratic members," he announced.
"Should we stop listening?" Leahy asked.
"Yes, you can stop listening," Grassley said.
Graham tried to provide a counterpoint to the bitterness. He urged his fellow senators not to question the motives of their opponents, and he called on President Bush to name a second nominee "who loves the law more than they love politics."
"Liberals and conservatives come and go, but the rule of law is bigger than all of our philosophies," Graham said.
Sen. Sam Brownback, who skipped most of the hearing, didn't agree with that bit about law trumping philosophy. The Kansas Republican arrived at the hearing room with a 14-year-old girl suffering from Down syndrome and, as the smiling girl stood behind him, made an impassioned anti-abortion argument. We "celebrate her," Brownback said, "and yet in the womb, 80 percent are killed."
Hatch began reaching into his pocket. But he apparently reconsidered and did not pull out his camera phone. This moment would not be recorded as part of Hatch's Excellent Adventure.