On John Roberts

What to think of John Roberts?

I’m not going to be all pundit-like. You can read the same websites I’ve read tonight and find out all the conventional wisdom for yourself. I’m not an expert, of course.

So here are just some personal thoughts.

One, my gut reaction is: wow, what an amazing guy. Were he my age or younger, he’s the type of guy I’d be resentful and envious of – for his intellect, for his achievements, for the level of respect that he commands among his colleagues. (I’m often envious and resentful of my intellectual superiors, of whom there are many – particularly in the legal field.)

Two, the fact that I (so far) generally think well of him is making me realize what a narrow band of court cases I really care about. I tend to be a careful thinker (or at least I try to be), and I can often see merit in both sides of an issue. The cases I really get emotionally involved in are gay-rights cases, for obvious, self-regarding reasons.

When it comes to abortion, I tend to take the Bill and Hillary Clinton view: it should be safe, legal, and rare. Partial-birth abortion bothers me unless it’s necessary to preserve the health or life of the mother; should it be illegal? I don’t know.

The right to die? I support it. The death penalty? I’m against it. OK, there are two areas where I have clear views.

Eminent domain: I was pretty outraged by Kelo, the recent property-rights case (in which the “liberal wing” won the day). That’s one case that knocked my block off.

Federalism (Congress vs. the states): I’m a bit uneasy with Congress overstepping its constitutionally-mandated bounds, although Congressional power is generally more accepted in our culture today than it was 200 years ago. I disagree with Raich, which stretched the definition of interstate commerce to allow Congress to legislate against medical marijuana. As for other instances, my view depends on how the structural ideal balances against the merits of the law at issue.

Religion and the First Amendment: Most of these cases are tough, and I don’t have a clear philosophy here.

Free Speech and First Amendment: OK, here’s one more area where I do have clear views (and they are rather conventional): I almost always support free speech, no matter how odious. When it comes to cases such as publishing instructions on how to make bombs, though, I’m not sure.

Business: I’m not too fond of pro-business decisions, and I’ve read in one place that Roberts has generally supported business, although I can’t find any specifics on that right now.

What’s the point of all this? I guess it’s that my views on things are not often clear, particularly to me. I sometimes find myself more respectful of the conservative view than I’d expect (see federalism). Again, I can often see merit in both sides of a case.

In high school, I opposed the first Gulf War before it began, but once it began (and spectacularly well, at that), I changed my mind and supported it. At the time, I had just joined a BBS with some of my friends, and I took the screen name “Chameleon” in order to make fun of myself. I’d make an awful presidential candidate.

I’m envious of all those smart people who can easily absorb research and have, by now, digested everything that John Roberts has written in his two years as an appellate court judge and believe they know the man. He’ll probably be confirmed, and I don’t know what I think about that. I find myself less worried than I thought I’d be, although I’m still somewhat uneasy, because he is, after all, a conservative. But I’m not too fond of labels, and “conservative” can mean different things.

Basically, I’m surprised to find myself admiring a Bush nominee, although I admire him with caution.