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Correction to This Article
A photo caption with a July 17 article referred to "District Judge John G. Roberts Jr." Roberts is a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Similar Appeal; Different Styles

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By Charles Lane and Jerry Markon
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, July 17, 2005

John G. Roberts Jr. and J. Michael Luttig have both marched up through the Republican ranks, from Supreme Court clerkships to White House jobs to the federal bench.

Now the two area judges -- Roberts sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit; Luttig is a Tysons Corner-based member of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit -- have emerged on President Bush's short list of potential nominees to the Supreme Court, according to lawyers familiar with the administration's deliberations.

Conservative activists in the Republican base view both as far more acceptable than Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, who has become a top contender for the court, and have begun to promote the pair. But even though both judges are conservative -- and close friends -- they present a distinctly different choice in style and temperament that could influence their selection and say a great deal about how Bush wants to shape the court.

In his years as a lawyer, Roberts, 50, proved himself an affable and measured member of the Washington legal establishment. But his short tenure on the bench has meant fewer written opinions that can be parsed for his philosophy.

Luttig, 51, is edgier, painting his ideas in bold intellectual strokes. He has left a long paper trail that liberal critics will try to mine to fight his appointment.

The difference between the two men is a bit like the difference between the two conservative justices they served -- the easygoing William H. Rehnquist, for whom Roberts clerked in 1980 before Rehnquist became chief justice, and the combative Antonin Scalia, for whom Luttig clerked on the D.C. Circuit in 1982, and who is still a close friend.

"Roberts is known as a much more judicious person. . . . Luttig would get certain people really jazzed up," said a former administration official who, like other lawyers contacted for this article, declined to be named for fear of appearing to take sides. "For conservatives, Luttig is more exciting -- because he is more excitable."

Such intangibles might not matter when it comes to how either man would vote on the court. But they could affect their confirmation chances were either nominated. Robert H. Bork's 1987 bid failed, in part, because he seemed dour in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Scalia, in contrast, turned on his personal charm to help win unanimous confirmation in 1986.

The White House has been examining the records of many possible nominees, and Bush has said he is open to considering candidates who are not judges. But many conservatives continue to promote Luttig and Roberts, and say they are at the top of the administration's list.

Born in Tyler, Tex., Luttig attended public schools and graduated from Washington and Lee University and the University of Virginia law school. He worked at the Reagan White House and then clerked for Scalia. He later clerked for then-Chief Justice Warren E. Burger and served as Burger's special assistant.

After a brief stint as a corporate litigator, Luttig became a deputy assistant attorney general and soon was running the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, a position from which he helped guide the Supreme Court nominations of David H. Souter and Clarence Thomas through the Senate. Luttig and Thomas remain friends, and Luttig has recommended many of his clerks to Scalia, Thomas and other conservative justices.

In 1991, President George H.W. Bush nominated Luttig to the 4th Circuit, and he was unanimously confirmed by the Senate. At 37, he became the youngest appellate court judge in the country.


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