Whether you love or hate his judicial philosophy, John Roberts is one canny bureaucratic player.
As you plow through the blizzard of memos he wrote as a government lawyer, you get the sense of a man who is more conservative, more combative and more sarcastic than he has been portrayed in these walk-on-water profiles. It's no surprise that this Harvard man clerked and lawyered his way to a Supreme Court nomination.
You will, by the way, hear almost none of this on TV. Understanding the memos requires walking through the background and legal context of each controversy at the time, and television has no inclination to do that unless there's an inflammatory phrase that the pundits can argue about. (TV people keep talking about the battle over the documents while saying very little about what's in them.) It is, in short, a classic newspaper story.
Roberts is quite familiar with bureaucratic dodges and the art of Washington insincerity, the documents suggest..
As the New York Times | | http://nytimes.com/2005/07/27/politics/politicsspecial1/27records.html?ei=5094&en=a633c7d56bd72cad&hp=&ex=1122523200&adxnnl=1&partner=homepage&adxnnlx=1122475822-gyn1pzZ8S7Pt3+4a/SCg0A noted: "Responding to a letter from the American Jewish Committee in 1981, he asked a supervisor, 'Is this draft response O.K. - i.e., does it succeed in saying nothing at all?'"
Is that his confirmation hearing strategy?
As The Washington Post | | http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/07/26/AR2005072602070.html pointed out, he advised then-AG William French Smith in 1982 on how to tell Coretta Scott King that Justice was axing a $250K grant for what he called the "very poorly run" MLK Center in Atlanta. JR's advice: Just tell Mrs. King " 'there is simply no money available for additional funding,' and 'indicate support for the activities of the King Center, and even pleasure that the Justice Department was able to be of assistance in advancing' its goals."
A real pleasure, right.
And when Olson said his strategy would "be perceived as a courageous and highly principled position, especially in the press," Roberts underlined the words "especially in the press" and wrote: "Real courage would be to read the Constitution as it should be read and not kowtow to the Tribes, Lewises and Brinks!" He meant Lawrence Tribe, ABA chief David Brink and NYT columnist Anthony Lewis.
The Boston Globe | http://www.boston.com/news/nation/washington/articles/2005/07/27/roberts_showed_way_to_shift_the_debate/ examined Roberts's "deeply skeptical review of a report outlining the need for affirmative action" by an outgoing Carter aide. "'The logic of the report is perfectly circular: the evidence of structural discrimination consists of disparate results, so it is only cured when 'correct' results are achieved through affirmative action quotas." What's more, wrote Roberts, "the affirmative action program required the recruiting of inadequately prepared candidates."
Did Roberts suggest making this potentially explosive argument in public? No way. He wrote Smith: "I have drafted an innocuous reply to [the civil rights commission chairman]. The report is attached, although I do not recommend reading it."
This NYT sidebar | http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/27/politics/politicsspecial1/27paper.html?adxnnl=1&adxnnlx=1122476999-JGdWiF2nkMwEE9E/M29X+Q has Roberts dismissing a proposal by then-Democratic congressman Elliott Levitas for a conference on power-sharing between the WH and the Hill: "There already has, of course, been a 'Conference on Power Sharing.' It took place in Philadelphia's Constitution Hall in 1787, and someone should tell Levitas about it and the 'report' it issued."
Roberts also dished media advice, the New York Sun | http://www.nysun.com/article/17605 finds, at one point discussing the negative coverage that Justice was getting in such conservative magazines as National Review and Human Events: "The repeated complaint is that Carter holdovers are thwarting implementation of conservative policy by presenting only established liberal legal dogma to their superiors, who are ill-equipped to refute the analyses presented to them." The magazines were concerned that too many political appointees were "establishment lawyers who are not committed to the Reagan ideology, particularly on the so-called 'social issues.' "
The Roberts advice to Smith: dodge the charge. "It really should not matter what the personal ideology of our appointees may be, so long as they recognize that their ideology should have no role in the decisional process."
Just about everyone, meanwhile, reports on the advice given Sandra Day O'Connor before her confirmation hearings: "The approach was to avoid giving specific responses to any direct questions on legal issues likely to come before the court."
For a man who so many profiles said never expressed his views on hot-button subjects like abortion, there was also this swipe at "what is broadly perceived to be the unprincipled jurisprudence of Roe v. Wade."
These opinionated, often funny, asides may be no different than you'd find in any lawyer's internal correspondence. But they certainly provide a more complicated portrait than the initial profiles.
So now there's a new conventional wisdom, embodied by this morning's NYT | http://nytimes.com/2005/07/28/politics/28assess.html?ei=5094&en=0adebca249d07a52&hp=&ex=1122523200&adxnnl=1&partner=homepage&adxnnlx=1122520937-OBCr5RniKhNbY4loEnxKAg: Roberts has "a philosophy every bit as conservative as that of the policy makers on the front lines of the Reagan revolution . . . Sometimes, he took positions even more conservative than those of his prominent superiors."
"Carried to its logical political conclusions," says the Philadelphia Inquirer | http://www.philly.com/mld/inquirer/news/nation/12240208.htm, "Roberts' view of a highly restrained judiciary would result in a federal government that is more neutral in guarding individual and civil rights and stays out of many other controversies over how life is lived in the United States."
How goes the confirmation fight? Salon's Michael Scherer | http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2005/07/28/roberts/index.html leads off with a quote from Nan Aron, head of the liberal Alliance for Justice:
" 'We're doing our best to press the senators to do a full and thorough investigation. . . . I don't know what the record will show.' "
"Such words do not come easily to the head of the Alliance, the umbrella group for more than 70 environmental, consumer and civil rights groups. Aron has known for years that Roberts was in the pipeline for the job, but she also knew there was little public information to evaluate his record . . .
"That premonition helps explain the early success of President Bush's nominee rollout. While Roberts smiled for the cameras, liberal interest groups spent much of the last two weeks on the sideline, muted by everything they do not know. Gone, at least for now, are clear threats of a 'divisive confirmation battle' or warnings that a conservative pick would cause a 'constitutional catastrophe.' President Bush picked a judge of the highest reputation and credentials, a corporate lawyer with Democratic friends, the looks of a Boy Scout leader, and a family that evokes Kennedy comparisons.
"But all those advantages pale in comparison to his most appealing quality for Republicans: Roberts lacks any substantive public record that advocates like Aron could use to mount their attacks. Pro-life, anti-gay rights, and pro-business conservatives are happy with the selection. But for many liberal groups, he remains hidden in plain sight."
In Slate, disgraced Wall Street analyst turned pundit Henry Blodget | http://slate.msn.com/id/2123414/nav/tap1/ examines the financial picture:
"What do Roberts' investments say about him? He is rich, but not so rich that the $200,000 Supreme Court justice salary would feel like chump change. Still, he will be comfortable hobnobbing with other capitalists-turned-public servants in Washington (for whom $200,000 is chump change). Roberts benefits or will benefit from virtually all the various Bush tax cuts, from income to dividends to capital gains to estate taxes. His fortune is self-made, which suggests a bias toward self-reliance rather than entitlements and subsidies.
"Roberts' one-eighth share of the cottage in Limerick (worth less than $15,000), combined with an investment in the 'New Ireland Fund' (also less than $15,000) suggest a possible Gaelic fetish.
"Roberts' stock and mutual-fund holdings in 2003 were highly diversified, consisting of domestic and international stocks in multiple industries. In keeping with Roberts' reputation for prudence, the equities consisted primarily of dividend-paying blue chips like Coca Cola (less than $15,000), AT&T (less than $15,000, sold), Merck (less than $15,000), etc. Those who view Roberts as a robotic starched-shirt, however, should note evidence of a romantic-idealist streak: a chunk of XM Satellite Radio worth between $100,000 and $250,000. This bizarrely out-of-character investment suggests that Roberts is either clairvoyant or not afraid to dream: The stock is up tenfold since early 2003.
"Also in keeping with Roberts' clean-cut, churchgoing image, his investments did not include companies in vice industries (gaming, drinking, smoking, etc.)."
Rudy for governor? No way, says John Podhoretz | http://corner.nationalreview.com/05_07_24_corner-archive.asp#070944:
"The decision by George Pataki not to seek a fourth term as governor of New York state is merely a reflection of reality. Unless certain Democratic nominee Eliot Spitzer hauled off and arrested himself, there would have been no way for Pataki to win. Nor will he make a serious play for the presidency, because Pataki is many things, but he is not a fool.
"The White House might try a Hail Mary play for the seat and give Pataki an ambassadorship or a Cabinet post very soon and see whether the totally unknown Lt. Governor Mary Donohue might prove unexpectedly talented at the top job (as is the case with Jodi Rell, who got the job in Connecticut when John Rowland went off to the pokey and has become a star). Otherwise, the bench is unbelievably weak. Some nice and good guys in the Congress -- Pete King, John Sweeney -- can and may and will run, but Spitzer will mow them down.
"You're going to hear a lot of Rudy Giuliani talk in the next few days -- Rudy for Governor, blah blah blah. I don't think he'll go for it. In the first place, the position of the GOP in New York state is so parlous that even the hero of 9/11 would begin with a disadvantage. More important, the sorts of liberal-Republican things Rudy would have to say and do -- on abortion and stem cells and guns and the like -- to secure the governorship would make him permanently unelectable as president."
The New York Daily News | http://nydailynews.com/front/story/332291p-283932c.html, meanwhile, says Pataki has bigger ideas: "Gov. Pataki backed out of a tough race for a fourth term yesterday and started to set his sights on an even bigger prize: the White House."
How many New Yorkers will be running for the presidency, anyway?
And is this guy joining them or not?
"After saying Monday in an online chat with a newspaper's Web site that his intention was not to run for president in 2008, Sen. Rick Santorum (R., Pa.) yesterday said he would not completely rule out the possibility," says the Inquirer | http://www.philly.com/mld/inquirer/news/nation/12240203.htm.
The administration really had to sweat to get this 217 to 215 victory, reports the Los Angeles Times | http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-cafta28jul28,1,4308399.story?coll=la-headlines-nation:
"The House voted late Wednesday to ratify the Central American Free Trade Agreement, handing President Bush a hard-fought victory on a measure with limited economic effects but large political consequences . . .
"The late-night House vote capped weeks of high-pressure lobbying and deal-making by Bush administration officials, Republican leaders in Congress and outside business groups who viewed CAFTA's approval as essential to advancing U.S. commercial interests, foreign policy goals and GOP political objectives."
Kevin Drum | http://www.washingtonmonthly.com objects to the Republican spinning on Plamegate:
"During the past month . . . the growing evidence that someone in the White House really did expose Plame has caused more than a bit of panic -- and a change of heart. We've already heard from Fox's John Gibson, who not only thinks it was OK to expose the identity of a covert CIA agent to the press, but apparently thinks it was a positive social good. Valerie Plame 'should have been outed by somebody,' he said, and Karl Rove deserves a medal for being the only guy with the guts to do it.
"Since then, the proposition that it wasn't a big deal even if the White House did out Plame, has become a routine talking point. Over at QandO | http://www.qando.net/details.aspx?Entry=2281, Jon Henke nicely summarizes the now standard conservative position "If a White House official 1) consciously knew that Valerie Plame was a covert agent 2) whose identity ought to have been protected, and 3) that White House official initiated a leak of her name to the press 4) in order to disclose her identity, then he ought to be removed from his position and prosecuted.
"In other words, if Rove's failure was merely that he didn't care enough to check on Plame's status, then he did nothing wrong. If he knew she was covert but didn't realize that the CIA prefers its covert agents to stay covert, then he did nothing wrong. If he knew that too, but outed Plame in a conversation that someone else initiated, then he did nothing wrong. And finally, even if he knew all those things, but his motivation was merely to score points against Joe Wilson, rather than to ruin Valerie Plame's career, then he did nothing wrong. These criteria essentially justify in advance virtually anything that Rove might plausibly have done.
"Nearly every conservative blog now follows this line. Plame wasn't really all that covert. Rove was merely engaged in a longrunning turf battle with the CIA. Hell, somebody had to smear Joe Wilson. The guy had it coming. If that required the exposure of Plame, her front company, and potentially every source she's ever worked with, that's the way it goes. After all, we don't know for sure that anything bad came of this, do we?
"The moral bankruptcy at the core of this argument is truly stunning."
You may not have heard of this local controversy, but Paul Reickhoff | http://www.huffingtonpost.com/theblog/featuredposts.html#a004735 is steamed:
"Radio host Michael Graham broadcasts ignorance and hate on WMAL-AM (630) in Washington, D.C. Check this out from the Washington Post:
"The show host touched off the flap during a discussion of the Muslim community's response to recent acts of terrorism. Graham suggested the fault lies with Muslims generally because religious leaders and followers haven't done enough to condemn and root out extreme elements. 'The problem is not extremism,' Graham said, according to both CAIR and the station. 'The problem is Islam.' He also said, 'We are at war with a terrorist organization named Islam."
"No we are not, you idiot. By the way, as someone who has served on the ground in Iraq, I can tell you for certain that this type of talk will really do nothing to help our troops trying to win hearts and minds in a country that is 95% Muslim!"