Politics & Policy

Meet John Roberts

The president makes the best choice.

If he hoped to keep his promise to nominate only the best and brightest as federal judges, President Bush couldn’t have done much better than tappng Judge John G. Roberts to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. Roberts, a former top-notch Supreme Court lawyer, currently sits on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, considered by most to be the top Court of Appeals in the country. A brilliant lawyer, devoted husband and father, and judge respected on both sides of the aisle, Roberts will serve this country with distinction as a member of the highest Court in the land.

Born in upstate New York, Roberts grew up in Indiana the son of a steel company manager and homemaker. Though captain of his high-school football team, he describes himself when asked as a less-than-fleet-of-foot halfback. His physical speed may have been in doubt, but his integrity and intellect are beyond question. He graduated summa cum laude, the highest possible academic distinction, from Harvard College and later magna cum laude from Harvard Law School. He learned his craft at the feet of legal legends, having clerked for Judge Henry Friendly on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and for then-Justice William Rehnquist. He served his country with distinction in the Reagan Justice Department and White House. Later, he was named Principal Deputy Solicitor General in the George H. W. Bush administration, acting as the number-two man for the federal government before the Supreme Court.

Roberts also brings near unparalleled experience before the Supreme Court. As a lawyer for the government and later in private practice, Roberts argued 39 cases before the Court for a wide range of clients. His talents did not go unnoticed, having been variously described as “one of [the Supreme Court’s] finest practitioners,” “one of the top appellate lawyers of his generation,” and even “viewed by many as the best Supreme Court advocate in private law firm practice.”

Roberts’s record reflects a career well within the legal mainstream. He has represented environmental groups, civil rights interest and criminal defendants. In his two years on the bench, he has authored nearly 40 opinions for the D.C. Circuit, but only two of those decisions have drawn dissents, each time on fairly mundane legal issues. And despite having sat on countless more cases as a judge, he has only authored two dissenting opinions. Hardly the track record of the extremist his opponents will try to make him out to be.

Neither is John Roberts a bench activist. He understands that Courts cannot–and should not–seek to solve every social problem our country faces. As a judge, he has demonstrated a healthy respect for the rule of law, deferring often to the will of the people as reflected in the laws enacted by Congress and signed by the president. In an age when the courts have injected themselves into some of the most hot-button of social issues–gay marriage, abortion, and the latest controversy du jour on the Left’s agenda–judges like Roberts are needed to ensure that we are a nation governed by laws, and not the arbitrary whims of five unelected judges.

With the Roberts nominations comes a most important intangible: confirmability. Roberts was confirmed by a more heavily Democratic Senate to his current seat on the D.C. Circuit by a unanimous voice vote–at a time when other nominees were stopped cold in their tracks. He draws praise from both sides of the aisle. Like any of President Bush’s nominees (shy of Ted Kennedy), he would likely draw some opposition. Environmental groups would likely oppose him on the basis of an isolated opinion or brief written over the course of his career. Abortion-rights groups would point to his involvement in Rust v. Sullivan, a case where the former Bush administration restated its views that Roe v. Wade was wrong. But these special interests likely would not be able to overcome the basic principle reflected in the president’s selection of John Roberts: A good judge is one who can set aside political interests and decide the case before him on the basis of the law.

The president is to be congratulated on nominating John Roberts to the Supreme Court. In the days to come, every manner of liberal interest group may seek to characterize aspects of Roberts’s record as a lawyer and judge as hostile to their particular political interest. He may be called anti-environmental, anti-abortion rights, anti-labor, etc., etc. But the special interests merely want a judge who is a sure vote for their agenda. Rather than thinking of John Roberts as an opponent of Liberal Activist Group A or B, think of him as a proponent of the rule of law.

If there is to be a fight, it will be a fight well worth waging. Our Constitution and our nation will be better off with John Roberts on the Court.

Shannen W. Coffin is a partner in the Washington, D.C. law firm of Steptoe & Johnson. A former Department of Justice official, Coffin now practices constitutional and appellate litigation.


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