FOR political activists, reporters, and senators who have gotten used to rancorous battles over nominations to the Supreme Court, the hearings on Ruth Bader Ginsburg offer quite a change of pace.
As Sen. Howell Heflin (D) of Alabama commented during Tuesday's session: "Congeniality prevails over confrontation; back-slapping has replaced back-stabbing; inquiry is the motivation rather than injury."
There's no danger of the hearings dissolving into rancor and recriminations. There is, however, the opposite danger: That the hearings may have turned into a love-in.
"I think that there is a tendency to look at the hearings as pro forma or perhaps just going through the motions, with confirmation a virtual assurance," complained Sen. Arlen Specter (R) of Pennsylvania.
But if there is not much suspense about the outcome, Judge Ginsburg's confirmation hearings nevertheless contain a higher level of political drama than run-of-the-mill proceedings on Capitol Hill.
All but one member of the Judiciary Committee was present for the start of the hearings - quite a contrast with most hearings, where only one or two members preside. The senators' unusually high attendance rate might be explained, at least in part, by intense news-media interest. Opening day, a solid phalanx of photographers surrounded Ginsburg at the witness table.
One of the few colorful moments occurred during the committee's opening statements. After Sen. William Cohen (R) of Maine finished speaking, chairman Joseph Biden (D) of Delaware announced that the next statement would be a "historic occasion" because it would be made by "the first woman ever to preside over a Judiciary Committee proceeding."
However, the person scheduled to speak next was not freshman Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) of California. It was Sen. Herb Kohl (D) of Wisconsin. Senator Biden drew hearty laughs when he exclaimed: "Oh, I beg your pardon.... [Kohl] is not a woman and has done it before and done it well and is the most distinguished member of this committee."