The Sotomayor Hearingzzzz

With the Senate Judiciary Committee questioning of Judge Sonia Sotomayor over, a topic talked about almost as much as "wise Latina" comments has been about why the hearings have been so, well, boring.

There are few responsibilities a senator has that are of more long-term reach than deciding on a Supreme Court nominee. One seat on the Supreme Court can change the court's nature for a generation or more.

And yet the Sotomayor hearings have largely been met with a collective shrug. Questioning from Republicans, while firm, has remained restrained — owing to Republican hesitancy to aggressively query a female Hispanic nominee nearly certain to be confirmed. Perhaps the most illuminating moment of the hearings thus far has been Judge Sotomayor's admission that watching the television show "Perry Mason" inspired her to become a prosecutor. If the best part of a confirmation hearing is banter about Perry Mason, you know it's a boring affair.

Even cable news has largely tuned out of the hearings, dropping in for coverage every now and then but falling far short of gavel-to-gavel coverage. It's hard to blame them. After the initial speeches, the hearings have hardly been a ratings bonanza. And we'll always have C-SPAN.

There's another reason the hearings seem commonplace. That's because they are. As a reporter mentioned to me earlier this week, when John Roberts was nominated, it was the first Supreme Court nomination in 12 years. It had been a long time. Most staffers on the Senate Judiciary Committee had never prepared a Supreme Court hearing. For the media, too, it was something completely new — where for much of the congressional press corps the Roberts hearings were their first Supreme Court confirmation hearings, it's now old hat. The Sotomayor hearing are the third Supreme Court hearings in four years — we've become as used to these now as we have launches of the space shuttle — even the press doesn't want to be there.

After Sotomayor, presumably, is confirmed, speculation will begin on which justice may retire next — and who may replace him. Though we've become familiar with the proceedings of a Supreme Court nomination, next time it may not be as academic as replacing a liberal justice with another liberal. Should President Obama nominate another individual to the court, it could cause the court to take a radical turn. Whatever those hearings will be like, they won't be boring.

Stay tuned.