Paul Greenberg

For some of the more demented among us, like me, there's nothing quite so engrossing as watching C-SPAN's complete, unexpurgated, dull moment after dull moment, replay of the day's hearing on the nomination of a Supreme Court justice. We all have our strange tastes.

I anticipate it the way others do the opening day of the baseball season. Each to his own sport. (When baseball and jurisprudence are combined, it can be a delight. See the essay "The Common Law Origins of the Infield Fly Rule.")

For those of us watching this game from the bleachers, the nomination of Her Honor Sonia Sotomayor to the court does not promise an historic confirmation hearing. Her appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee is not likely to compare with Clarence Thomas' almost two decades ago. His confirmation, too, was going to be routine, but it turned out to be a revelation.

Invited to cringe and crawl before the committee to win confirmation, Clarence Thomas declined. Instead, he responded to the sneers and titillations about his private life with steely disdain, and, finally, with both verbal barrels:

"This is not an opportunity to talk about difficult matters privately or in a closed environment. This is a circus. It is a national disgrace. And from my standpoint, as a black American, as far as I am concerned, it is a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves, to do for themselves, to have different ideas, and it is a message that, unless you kow-tow to an old order this is what will happen to you, you will be lynched, destroyed, caricatured by a committee of the U.S. Senate, rather than hung from a tree."

I wanted to stand up and cheer.

If you want to see a contrast between preening, condescending familiarity and simple human dignity, just call up the YouTube video of Joe Biden questioning Clarence Thomas during his confirmation hearing. How startlingly young Justice Thomas looks. Yet he transmitted a self-respect that left his would-be tormentors backing away, making excuses, speaking of fairness even as they tried to hide how unfair they'd been.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.