Next week, the Senate committee might try to discover some pertinent things — when and where the high school party occurred, whether it was unusual, whether all those present were minors. If the committee cannot make such determinations, assisted by Ford’s timely testimony, this will be instructive and probably dispositive. Her courage in exposing herself to examination and opprobrium has earned her a respectful hearing. However, her rejection of multiple hearing options, and her insistence on prolongations that serve her party’s agenda, have earned her quizzical scrutiny.

This debacle du jour dramatizes how the court’s stature is hostage to the degrading confirmation process, which has become a maelstrom of insincerities. The justices who emerge from it suffer subtractions from the dignity that gives their decisions momentum for respect. For 64 years, the infusion of prestige the court received from its desegregation rulings has been remarkably durable, despite decisions — e.g., Roe v. Wade and Bush v. Gore — that were made during, and that intensified, turbulence in public sentiment. But prestige is perishable, and senatorial ludicrousness can infect all who come into contact with it.