Politics & Policy

Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz Clash over John Roberts

(Justin Sullivan/Getty)

Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz clashed over the appointment of Chief Justice John Roberts tonight, in a moment that saw both men struggle to address their connections to George W. Bush while arguing that only veteran justices extensive conservative record should be appointed to the Supreme Court.

CNN’s Dana Bash kicked off the exchange by reminding Bush that Cruz had recently faulted George W. Bush for appointing Roberts in 2005. It was a tricky subject for both men. Bush might have alienated conservatives by praising Roberts, even as he made implicit criticisms of the criteria that his brother used to select the justice. Cruz, who gave a rousing endorsement of Roberts in 2005, compensated by hammering Roberts and saying he would have appointed a more reliably conservative jurist.

“I’m surprised Senator Cruz would say, that since he was a strong supporter of John Roberts at the time,” Bush said. “We need to make sure that we have justices with a proven, experienced record of upholding the Constitution. That is what we need. . . . The history in the recent past is [to] appoint people that have no experience so that you can’t get attacked. And that makes it harder for people to have confidence that they won’t veer off.”

Cruz was harder on Roberts. “It was a mistake when he was appointed to the Supreme Court,” he said. “He’s a good enough lawyer that he knows in these Obamacare cases [that] he changed the statute, he changed the law in order to force that failed law on millions of Americans . . . for a political outcome.”

#share#Bush seemed uneasy about rebuking his brother, even as he criticized him for trying to avoid difficult nomination battles. He was harsher on Cruz, pointing out that the Texas senator had publicly supported Roberts’s nomination in 2005. “You can rewrite history, I guess, Ted, but the fact is that you supported him because he had all the criteria that you would have thought would have made a great justice,” Bush said. “And I think he is doing a good job. But the simple fact is going forward what we need to do is have someone who has a longstanding set of rulings that consistently makes it clear that he is focused exclusively on upholding the Constitution of the United States.”

#related#Cruz defended Roberts during his confirmation process from critics who suggested that he didn’t have enough judicial experience to serve on the high court. “That complaint misses the mark,” Cruz wrote in July of that year. “As a jurist, Judge Roberts’s approach will be that of his entire career: carefully, faithfully applying the Constitution and legal precedent. . . . The Senate should confirm him swiftly.”

During the debate, Cruz insisted that he would not have appointed Roberts. “It is true that after George W. Bush nominated John Roberts I supported his nomination and I regret that,” he said. “We have an out-of-control court. And I give you my word: If I am elected president, every single Supreme Court justice will faithfully follow the law.”

— Joel Gehrke is a political reporter at National Review.

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