Bench Memos

The Roberts Hearing: A Day-by-Day Guide

I hope to have on NRO on Monday morning (or perhaps later this afternoon) an essay previewing the fundamental dynamics of the Roberts confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee next week. At the risk of a little overlap, I provide this brief guide to the day-by-day action:

Day 1 (Monday, Sept. 12): The hearing is set to open at noon. Senators Warner, Lugar, and Bayh will introduce Roberts. Lugar and Bayh, of course, are from Roberts’s native state of Indiana, and Bayh, who hopes to win the Democratic nomination for president in 2008, has made clear that his appearing to introduce Roberts should not be mistaken as support for Roberts’s nomination. Warner’s link to Roberts, I’m told, is that Roberts once lived in Virginia. Roberts now lives in Maryland, but neither Sarbanes nor Mikulski will be introducing him.

Unless you savor senatorial bloviation, the next three hours (probably without a lunch break, according to one committee staffer) will not be the most riveting of the hearing, as each of the 18 senators (10 Republicans, 8 Democrats) on the committee will have ten minutes to make an opening statement. Look forward to Democrats’ feigning their openmindedness as they express their grave concerns that Roberts is a Neanderthal or, even worse, a Republican.

The day’s session will end with its highlight, Roberts’s opening statement. First impressions matter a lot, and this will be Roberts’s first real opportunity to present himself to the American people. Senate Democrats in particular will gauge how appealing his persona is. Roberts will, I think, express his deep gratitude to his family, the president and the Committee, pay homage to the late chief justice, and offer his sympathies to the victims of Katrina. As Ginsburg did, he will probably explain that judicial ethics constrain how he can answer questions. We’ll see whether he strikes any substantive themes, such as the virtues of judicial restraint, or whether his handlers will have pounded out of his statement anything remotely jurisprudential.

Day 2 (Tuesday, Sept. 13): Questioning begins at 9:30, with half-hour sessions generally alternating back and forth between Republicans and Democrats (except that Republicans have two additional members). One full round will take nine hours, not counting breaks, so it could easily take well into the evening to complete the round.

Chairman Specter will lead off the questioning. This will likely be the most important Q&A of the hearing, as Roberts will know that his key to confirmation is winning Specter’s support without alienating conservative senators.

The alternating pattern invites an attack-and-rehabilitation mode, so it’s worth examining the order of questioning:

Specter (R)

Leahy (D)

Hatch (R)

Kennedy (D)

Grassley (R)

Biden (D)

Kyl (R)

Kohl (D)

DeWine (R)

Feinstein (D)

Sessions (R)

Feingold (D)

Graham (R)

Schumer (D)

Cornyn (R)

Durbin (D)

Brownback (R)

Coburn (R)

I’m told that, of the Republicans, Hatch, Kyl, Sessions, Graham, and Cornyn are, when engaged, particularly effective in hearings. Grassley and Coburn are not lawyers.

Day 3 (Wednesday, Sept. 14): More questioning, again beginning at 9:30 a.m. Unless Schumer carries through on his threat to ask questions forever, Roberts’s testimony should come to a close by the evening.

Day 4 (Thursday, Sept. 15) and, if need be, Day 5 (Friday, Sept. 16): If/Once Roberts’s testimony is over, the committee will race through the panels of two or three dozen witnesses lined up to offer their views, pro and con, on the Roberts nomination.

The Committee is expected to vote on Roberts’s nomination on September 20 or September 22, and the full Senate vote on his confirmation should occur by September 29.

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