Over on The Corner, our all-seeing editrix Kathryn Lopez was ahead of me by an hour in noticing William Raspberry’s lame column today. She quotes part of his snarky conclusion about Roberts’s life of “quite extraordinary privilege,” which Raspberry, that man of the people, sees as somehow a kind of disqualification for service on the Supreme Court.
Raspberry’s description of Roberts is “son of a wealthy steel executive . . . attended private schools . . . Harvard and Harvard Law School . . . appeals court clerkship . . . clerkship with . . . Rehnquist . . . special assistant to the U.S. attorney general, and associate counsel to the president . . . one of Washington’s top law firms . . . office of the solicitor general . . . a seat on the . . . D.C. Circuit.” Oh, what a great distance from “real-life . . . problems and concerns” Roberts has enjoyed, concludes Raspberry.
But it appears from what has been published about Roberts’s life that his origins were decidedly middle-class, his dad a mid-level white-collar guy with Bethlehem Steel, at least when the younger John was a kid, and the Roberts family’s two homes in Long Beach, Indiana were fairly modest affairs. Roberts went to a boys’ Catholic boarding school–who knows how much that cost or how hard or easy it was for his father?–but then went off to Harvard as a scholarship student. From then on, Roberts’s success was owing to his own hard work and native talent.
Now compare John Roberts’s story to that of the last appointee to the Court, Stephen G. Breyer. Here’s a brief biographical sketch of Breyer, relying in part on a Washington Post profile from June 26, 1994: His father was a lawyer, for 42 years counsel to the San Francisco Board of Education. Breyer’s childhood milieu was the “large Jewish middle-class community in San Francisco, one generation removed from poverty.” He attended an “academically rigorous public [high] school,” then was off to Stanford, then won a Marshall scholarship to Oxford (he was too un-athletic to get a Rhodes–hmm, what was Clinton’s sport?). Then to Harvard Law, where he made law review. Then a year clerking for Justice Arthur Goldberg at the Supreme Court, followed by two years as special assistant to the U.S. attorney general. Then Breyer spent thirteen years on the full-time faculty of Harvard Law, interrupted only by service on the special Watergate prosecution task force in 1973. Finally, Breyer was appointed to the federal First Circuit in 1980, from which he was elevated 14 years later to the high bench.
Can you see much daylight between the two life histories? And do you remember William Raspberry’s worrying aloud about Stephen Breyer’s detachment from ordinary life when he joined the Court eleven years ago?