Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts has been taking some hits from the conservative media and punditocracy — not to mention from his conservative brethren on the bench.
But the even-tempered Roberts is most likely to take the brickbats in stride, much as the former chief justice he clerked for, William Rehnquist, who, despite some bad press, was oft-amenable to grabbing a cheeseburger down at the Monocle with a reporter.
Former Chief Justice Warren Burger apparently was a bit more thin-skinned, judging from a 3 1/2-page screed he wrote to his buddy, Harry Blackmun, just before Blackmun’s April 1970 Senate confirmation hearing on his nomination to the high court.
Burger’s letter recently unearthed from the Library of Congress by the legal blog Noncuratlex.com, warns his boyhood friend to beware the vicious, tricky media in Washington.
After reminding Blackmun, as he often did, that he owed his new job to Burger, the chief launched an occasionally incoherent rant on the press and “their almost psychotic passion for copy.” (Hey! No “copy,” no pay.)
“The activist-liberal-avant garde boys will spare nothing to create tension between Justices,” Burger warned, “and they will especially go to work on us now because of our long friendship.”
If you talk to reporters “the old system of ‘rewards and punishments’ prevails,” Burger said. “It’s like blackmail or heroin; once on the ‘hook’ they try to keep the victim impaled.” (Darn! Someone told him how we work.)
Burger reminded Blackmun that he had already warned him that “we must not over-react to these tactics and the needles and knives. I should add that, true to history — or is it biology — the female of the species is more deadly.”
Burger also said, perhaps prophetically, that “these marble halls do something to people.”
They can indeed. But Blackmun’s split with Burger and drift to a solid member of the court’s liberal wing, almost surely was not the result of anything the press did. It was more the result of Burger’s overbearing ways, Justice Bill Brennan’s courting, and most of all, Blackmun’s evolution of his jurisprudence.