The perfect expert witness: humble, restrained, self-deprecating

Dahlia Lithwick, currently dissecting the Roberts nomination hearings for Slate, is providing some valuable commentary on how expert witnesses can handle themselves when faced with hostile questioning.

    "John Roberts is putting on a clinic.

    He completely understands that he needs only to sit very quietly, head cocked to signal listening-ness, while senator after senator offers long discursive rambling speeches. Only when he's perfectly certain that a question has been asked does he offer a reply; usually cogent and spare. Here's a man long accustomed to answering really hard questions from extremely smart people, suddenly faced with the almost-harder task of answering obvious questions from less-smart people. He finds himself standing in a batting cage with the pitching machine set way too slow.

    ... It's increasingly clear that Senate Democrats are giving up. They are taking a cue from the petulant Joe Biden, who telegraphs exactly who these hearings are really for when he refuses to let the nominee answer any of his questions. ... Knowing there will be no Perry Mason moment—there won't even be a Lionel Hutz moment—they dully read their questions from a script and avoid the follow-up altogether. " (Slate, Tuesday)

Come on, people. Let's give popular culture lawyers their due. Lionel Hutz isn't the only foil you can use in examining Roberts' nomination. What about Judge Smails? Angie Harmon? Even Benny, the file clerk from L.A. Law?

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