Jul 202005

John Roberts — a smooth-talking corporate lawyer turned appeals court judge, whose Waspy good looks and blue-chip credentials may conceal an ultraconservative legal agenda. The perfect Stealth nominee, in other words.

As deputy solicitor general under George I, Roberts penned an amicus brief supporting the right of Randall Terry’s goons to scream at and spit on women trying to enter abortion clinics. No constitutional violations there!

Roberts further burnished his anti-choice credentials with his brief in Rust v. Sullivan (a case challenging the ban on federal funding to family planning services that offer abortion counseling) in which he urged the Supremes to overturn Roe v. Wade altogether — even though Roe was not at issue in the case.

But is that the true legal face of John Roberts? The first Bush administration had a habit of taking extreme anti-choice positions in cases it knew would be decided by a pragmatically pro-choice court. (In Rust, for example, the Supremes upheld the federal funding ban while studiously ignoring the government’s argument on Roe.) These could be seen as primarily political gestures to the religious right — gestures the Bush Justice Department was happy to make at least in part because they had so little influence on the court. As a political appointee in an office full of career deputy solicitors, it may have fallen to Roberts to draft those arguments.

On the other hand, that Roberts is a hardline conservative seems beyond reasonable doubt. This Legal Times piece by Tony Mauro gives the rundown. If the wing nuts were afraid of "another Souter," they probably don’t have anything to worry about.

But if the Party of God was hoping for an appointee who is obviously one of their own — a Janice Rogers Brown or an Allen Keyes is a black robe — they didn’t get that, either. Professionally and culturally, Roberts is very much a Bush I throwback: a product of Harvard, government service and K Street (the pre-DeLay K Street). He clerked for Rehnquist, not Scalia or Thomas. It’s a lot easier to imagine Roberts eating a working lunch in a corporate boardroom than breaking bread at a prayer breakfast with a bunch of Christian Dominionists.

However, is it possible that in his heart of hearts he’s a raving Ayatollah. I don’t like this guy, but I don’t believe he’s going to have a lot of trouble getting his 60 votes…so I think Moveon and the democrats will do well to try to keep the focus on Karl Rove, and give Bush a pass on this one. Then, when, in the middle of the upcoming term, Bush gets to nominate a new Chief Justice, we’ll have goodwill for the necessary filibuster.

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