Partisan rancor? Walk outs? Pithy exchanges? You wish. It was far, far worse.
There are few things more painful to watch than a Senator, in solemn voice and high dudgeon, reading a question drafted by someone else that he/she does not understand. High-minded, scholarly-sounding questions about original intent, or scrutiny levels may be worth asking, but in the manner of a first year law student imploring a moot court to grant his "client's" freedom?
There was the usual parade of well-regarded legal minds...well, the usual suspects, anyway. Harvard's Lawrence Tribe was there, his presentation a thinly veiled recitation of his own curriculum vitae serving to ask the question "When is it my turn to be the nominee?" The learned and the obscure, the famous and the inscrutable. In short, the typical yahoo sprawl.
Head and shoulders above the other witnesses was one Barbara Jordan. She had served in Congress, representing the state of Texas. A list of her accomplishments is available on Wiki, they being far too numerous to list here. Suffice to say, were it not for ill health, or the open discrimination she faced on several counts, she would have been an excellent Supreme Court justice, or President.
The Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats lavished well-deserved praise and fawned over her. They asked her questions designed to demonstrate her grasp of the US Constitution, her powerful oratory style and her breathtaking intellect. She did not disappoint - she is the kind of person with whom one might vigorously disagree and yet come away thinking the time they'd invested had made them a better individual, on the whole.
The Republicans greeted her warmly, asking after her health. It was always a pleasure to see her. They wished her well, and left it at that. When one is walking in a mind field, it is best not to hop.
Then, there was Gordon Humphrey, Senator from New Hampshire. He had questions. He had concerns. He engaged Ms. Jordan in a Q&A designed to demonstrate his grasp of Con Law.
He had been, prior to his election to Congress, an airline pilot. The slaughter that ensued left little bloody pieces of the Senator adhering to the ceiling. Her command of her philosophy on constitutional interpretation was superior to his understanding of it. Her command of his philosophy was superior, too. In fact, had not the Senator's time mercifully expired we might have discovered that she knew more about aviation than he did.
How did this come up?
Just as one does not cross swords with a once in a generation gift to humanity such as Ms. Jordan, one must only have limited things to say to the parents of a US soldier who gave his life in defense of this great nation, regardless of the context. To wit:
"I'm very sorry for your loss. Thank you, on behalf of my party and a grateful nation, for your son's service and sacrifice. He will never be forgotten."
Anything else is a dick move. Madness.
*My late father swore that this exchange actually happened.