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.

18 thoughts on “On John Roberts

  1. No paper trail, they keep saying. Am I to believe Bush appointed him based on his resume without asking him a few pointed questions first?

    Yes, conservative can mean different things. And half of the current republican appointees turned out not to embody conservatism the way the presidents who nominated them expected.

    And that — one can hope — is light in the distance.

  2. I too found myself surprisingly undisturbed by John Roberts’ nomination. I certainly don’t feel the sigh of relief that I would have had it been Edith Clement but I guess it could have been a lot worse. I also think the left needs to be very careful if they take him on. An all out attack or a filibuster on this guy could give us all a black eye.

  3. The whole primetime announcement thing was just WEIRD. I can’t remember when that last happened for a SCOTUS nomination.

    I also realized how little you ever see (or ever hear) from the families of people on SCOTUS. Do the spouses have a club of any kind?

    His kids seemed too picture perfect last night. And they were adopted which hasn’t yet gotten media play. Aside from the philosophical view, from a self-interested view its been my experience that parents who adopt aren’t too keen about abortion. That includes the gay ones. I know plenty of gay people in the closet about their views on abortion.

  4. D,

    Without getting into abortion, it’s my view that anyone who adopts ought to be applauded. Those kids are in a good home with what appear to be smart parents and a stable marriage, and that’s likely a dramatic improvement over the circumstances they might have faced otherwise. I think adoption is a wonderful gift of one’s self to benefit of the children.

  5. I agree that anyone who adopts ought to be applauded. But in this case I think I’ll reserve my applause for Angelina Jolie.

    There’s no reason to suppose that Roberts is anything other than a horrorshow. The task before us, as always, is how best to deal with a congenitally hostile power structure.

    “Self-regarding reasons”? What happened to solidarity with one’s fellow man?
    And who does Roberts show fealty to other than those of his class?

    To slightly amend Groucho, “Whoever it is, I’m against him.”

  6. But that attitude- “whoever it is, I’m against him” – if carried out by Democrats in Washington, will probably propel Bush’s approval ratings back up. It’s odd- liberals lately have been screaming that they need to get nasty and fight hard, because that’s what they think Republicans do, but no Republican politician would ever say anything out loud as blunt as that.

  7. I don’t know too much about habeas law, though I probably lean leftwards there. I do disagree with Roberts’s decision last week that enemy combatants have no rights under the Geneva Convention.

  8. Would you agree that a frog that lives only in California CAN be regulated under the (interstate) Commerce Clause?

    See, aren’t anecdotes and one-line comments fun? And they go so far in winning arguments and convincing people, too!

  9. David, did you even read the french fry case? Or are you always automatically right and you just like to rant? Oh, wait. I already know the answer.

    Anyway, from Roberts’s opinion (my italics): “The question before us, however, is not whether these policies were a bad idea, but whether they violated the Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the Constitution.” The three-judge panel ruled that they did not.

    A Lexis case summary:

    During a week long undercover operation to enforce a “zero-tolerance” policy, an officer confronted the child after she took the french fry out of a bag. D.C. Code Ann. ยง 35-251(b) (2001) made it unlawful for any person to eat or drink in a Metrorail station. Although adult violators would normally just be given a citation, there was no citation policy for minors, so the child was placed under arrest until her parent could get her released. She asserted that her arrest violated the equal protection component of the Fifth Amendment, because similarly situated adults were not arrested. However, the court of appeals affirmed the ruling that strict scrutiny did not apply to a classification based on youth, and a rational basis, notification of a parent, existed for the arrest policy. For Fourth Amendment purposes, the arrest, however questionable the policy underlying it might be, was supported by probable cause because the officer personally saw the child in fact violate the statute.

  10. Tin Man,

    Agreed on all counts with the beginning of the last comment. As posters on Kos put it


    “You have to distinguish… (none / 1)
    in this case between if the actions of the Metro police were appropriate (most certainly not) and if they were constitutional (almost certainly they were). If this girl was violating the law, the police had a right to arrest her”


    “This case is the main reason that I am not too worried about the guy. He thought the law was stupid, but it was the law (and constitutional) – so he followed it. What more can you (or should you) ask.”

  11. It’s good to see here, and elsewhere, that the left isn’t embracing ideologically motivated thinking when commenting on Roberts’ record and any discernible judicial philosophy. Knee-jerk opposition, without a relaxed, calm, rational position is weak, bizarre, publicly distasteful, and so RNC/Rove like — and will merely screw the Democrats come 2006’s elections.

    Abandon rabid reasoning and think long-term, as is the enemy.


  12. We’re screwed either way, for the time being. Whether we remained screwed may depend on our demeanor now: we can run around in circles screaming, or we can play our few cards like grown-ups.

    Roberts isn’t the one to Bork, especially when there is some evidence he could end up in the jurisprudential middle. Let’s see who Bush chooses to replace Rehnquist in the next year or two; people will be saying “Who’s Roberts?” if Bush elevates Scalia and nominates, say, Janice Rogers Brown as an associate justice.

  13. I feel a sort of hopeful ambivalence about this nominee. He is not someone I knew anything about before yesterday, but what I have read about him so far doesn’t frighten me the way I expected a Bush Supreme Court nominee would. Yes, I know this could change.

    Frankly, my biggest disappointment was that he’s another white male.

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