He may be young (by Supreme Court standards) and good looking, but does John Roberts have the integrity and understanding of the institution to serve on the nation's highest court?
Judge Roberts, at age 50, has served as a federal judge for just a little more than two years on the court of appeals for D.C., considered the second-highest court in the country. But whether or not two years is considered sufficient experience, this sharp attorney has plenty of experience arguing 39 cases before the Supreme Court.
Liberal groups strongly opposed to Roberts' nomination recall a brief he co-wrote in 1990 that suggested the Supreme Court should overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that legalized abortion.
"The court's conclusion in Roe that there is a fundamental right to an abortion ... finds no support in the text, structure or history of the Constitution," the brief said.
Yet during his 2003 confirmation hearing Roberts told senators that he would be guided by legal precedent. "Roe v. Wade is the settled law of the land." Wise words from an appellate judge who has no choice but to respect the ruling from the highest court. The question now is just how will he interpret Roe v. Wade as a member of it?
While he's currently not the most well-known justice in the country, nor was he mentioned much by court insiders, Roberts has spent many years in the White House, Justice Department and of course in private practice, where he took part in numerous opportunities to argue before the Supreme Court.
In the Reagan administration, Roberts was special assistant to the attorney general and associate counsel to the president. Between 1989 and 1993, he was principal deputy solicitor general, the government's second-highest lawyer, who argues cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Chief Justice William Rehnquist presided over the swearing-in ceremony when Roberts took his seat on the appeals court for the District of Columbia. It wasn't an easy ride. He was nominated for the court in 1992 by the first President Bush and again by the president in 2001. The nominations died in the Senate both times. He was re-nominated in January 2003 and joined the court in June 2003.
Roberts is recognized as a highly intelligent jurist and has received praise from people belonging to all ideologies. An impressive 126 members of the District of Columbia Bar, which included officials from the Clinton administration, signed a letter urging his confirmation. In the letter Roberts was described as one of the "very best and most highly respected appellate lawyers in the nation" and that his reputation as a "brilliant writer and oral advocate" was well deserved.
It is expected that groups on the left and the right will wage a fierce campaign to influence the public to let their senators know where they stand on Bush's appointment. Because liberals were hoping for a more moderate replacement for Justice O'Connor, it should be expected that Roberts will face strict opposition.
While many critics of hard-right justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas say they have political agendas, Judge John Roberts puts the text of the Constitution before ideology, as his on-the-record opinions reflect an originalists' narrow interpretation of the guiding document.
A great example of how Roberts uses the Constitution and nothing else in his rulings can be found in Hedgepath v. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority - involving a 12-year-old girl who was obtained by authorities for committing the heinous crime of eating french fries in a Metrorail station. In his ruling against the girl Roberts finds:
No one is very happy about the
events that led to this litigation. A twelve-year-old girl was
arrested, searched, and handcuffed. Her shoelaces were
removed, and she was transported in the windowless rear
compartment of a police vehicle to a juvenile processing
center, where she was booked, fingerprinted, and detained
until released to her mother some three hours later — all for
eating a single french fry in a Metrorail station. The child
was frightened, embarrassed, and crying throughout the or-deal.
The district court described the policies that led to her
arrest as ‘‘foolish,’’ and indeed the policies were changed after
those responsible endured the sort of publicity reserved for
adults who make young girls cry. 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. Like the district court, we conclude that
they did not, and accordingly we affirm.
It is that kind of eloquence the Supreme Court needs. Even though it was easy to sympathize with a young girl who was busted on a silly zero-tolerance policy, Roberts correctly saw no violation of the Constitution.
Aggressive-Voice endorses John Roberts to be the next associate justice confirmed to the United States Supreme Court.
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