Can You Hear Me Now? No, So Please Stop Screaming

If you’ve watched any stretch of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, you’ve heard a lot of shouting interrupting the proceedings. If you’ve been able to make out any of the actual words being shouted, then good for you.

If you’re watching a hearing, it is because you want to hear what the senators and witnesses are saying. Not because you are interested in the rantings and ravings of people opposed to the nominee. Note that there are witnesses called by the committee who are testifying against him. They were invited because they had very specific concerns and informed viewpoints, not because they are loud.

Years back, I was a reporter in Washington and sat at the press table at many, many congressional hearings. The most important thing at any given moment is to be able to hear the words spoken by a witness or member of Congress. Each word matters. The full context of their entire comments is important. Why would an individual think their right to scream outweighs the rights of everyone else to hear testimony?

One time, in a crammed hearing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, a man sat down at the press table and started muttering criticisms of an industry perspective while a witness was testifying. It was difficult to hear the witness and the chairman of the committee, who was leading the questions at that moment. I was getting really frustrated in my ability to do my job, which was to report on what was being said. A bunch of reporters kept shushing this jerk and eventually, the majority staff press secretary came over and confronted the loud mouth. Because he was not a member of the credentialed press, she told him to leave the press table. What a relief.

Right now at the Kavanaugh hearing, a panel of witnesses – for and against the nominee – are giving compelling, thoughtful and intellectually persuasive arguments. The committee chose their witnesses for good reason. And, these witnesses are respectively listening to each other. This is a democratic ideal. The senators are elected to make informed votes and the panel is bringing them a diversity of viewpoints.

Do the shouters really think that their assertions could sway a vote? Has any shouter spoken as eloquently as any of the witnesses, either for or against Kavanaugh? The shouters have plenty of opportunity outside of the hearing room to voice their opinions. Their antics in the hearing room are counterproductive and annoying.

The discussion in this hearing is fascinating. Some highlights for me include listening to Kavanaugh and Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., discuss semi-automatic weapons as well as hearing Theodore Olson, who served as solicitor general in the George W. Bush administration, praise Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in response to a question about Trump accusing her of having an addled mind. While there had been some political posturing, most of the discussions between the senators and the nominee were very in depth. That is the purpose of such a hearing. The shouters are welcome to scream from the highest mountaintops. Just take it outside.