When some people think of Sen. Joe Biden, they'll think of the unconscious racism of his characterization of Sen. Obama as "clean and articulate." Others will think back to the borrowing without attribution of Neil Kinnock's campaign speech. Or, those inclined more positively, will recall his terrific zinger about Rudy Giuliani ("a noun, a verb and 9/11"). The more serious will have a view about whether partition is the right course for Iraq.
For me, though, the defining Biden moment came over 20 years ago, during the Senate confirmation hearings on Judge Bork's nomination to the Supreme Court. (Complete pdfs in 5 parts are here.) Biden was the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee at the time and during the course of what was essentially a week-long seminar on constitutional law, he showed himself to be clearly in command of the material. Only Senators Hatch and Specter were in the same league. Moreover, thoughout the course of his Senate career, Biden has displayed the kind of knowledge of the Constitution and constitutional law that cannot simply have been the product of cramming for confirmation hearings. (He also occasionally displayed terrible clock management skills, as when, in supposedly questioning a nominee, he talked without asking questions for nearly his entire time allotment.)
So now we have a Democratic ticket in which both the Presidential and Vice Presidential nominee are deeply knowledgeable about constitutional law. Given the dynamics of this and every Presidential election, that's not likely to be much of a factor in the race, but when constitutional issues do arise, it will be a pleasure to hear answers that are not simply scripted by the campaign staff.
Posted by Mike Dorf