Revealing Roberts

Revealing Roberts

Revealing Roberts

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
July 20 2005 4:00 AM

Revealing Roberts

Everybody leads with—and most banner—President Bush's nomination of Judge John Roberts for the Supreme Court. Roberts, just 50, is something of a Republican establishment superstar. He's served in the administrations of Reagan and Bush I and two years ago was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, considered the country's second-highest court.

The Wall Street Journal describes the Harvard-trained Roberts as "affable, thoughtful and solidly Republican." But though he's been around Washington for two decades, it's hard to nail down his exact views since he's served on the bench for only two years. Before that, as an administration attorney he was obligated to take whatever positions the Oval Office handed down.

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Some of the papers don't buy or consider that notion; USA Today's subhead, for example, screams that Roberts "argued Against Roe." But when asked about Roe v. Wade at his 2003 confirmation hearings, Roberts described it as the "settled law of the land." Of course, even that doesn't mean much; it could have just been a savvy statement of the obvious: As an appeals court judge he was bound by the Supreme Court's precedent.

As the WSJ puts it, Roberts' short time on the bench gives the White House a "strategic advantage." Democrats can be suspicious of Roberts, but he doesn't have a track record on which they can nail him.

The NYT's Adam's Nagourney describes the choice as "almost obvious in retrospect": Roberts "is at least good enough for conservatives ... yet genial and enigmatic enough to confound Democrats." "They've artfully threaded the needle," said one Democratic congressional aide.

In other words, as the LAT notes, Roberts is something of a quadruple threat: "a young, conservative judge with a spotless personal record and a minimal paper trail."

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Roberts' decisions on the bench, says the Washington Post, have been marked by "dispassionate reasoning rather than inflammatory language." But as the New York Timesemphasizes, Roberts—a card-carrying member of the Federalist Society—has evinced skepticism about the extent of the feds' regulatory powers. In one recent case, Roberts ruled that feds can't use the Endangered Species Act to protect (endangered) arroyo toads since the case doesn't involve interstate commerce. "The toad," he wrote, "for reasons of its own, lives its entire life in California."

Slate's Emily Bazelon flags another case Roberts ruled on just last week: He gave the OK to the military tribunals at Gitmo, even though most independent analysts have concluded that the tribunals don't meet minimum standards of justice. Roberts' ruling, writes Bazelon, should be "seriously troubling to anyone who values civil liberties."

Social conservatives seemed pleased with the pick, and as the Journal emphasizes, the nomination also "drew cheers" from the business community. In between serving in the Bush I administration and his recent appointment to the bench, Roberts was a top corporate lawyer. When he was nominated for appeals court two years ago, about 150 prominent lawyers, Republicans and Democrats, signed a letter supporting him.

Liberal groups quickly went into overdrive against Roberts. But as everybody notes, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid basically held his fire, describing Roberts as "someone with suitable legal traditional credentials" whose record should be checked out to see if it shows a "commitment to the core American values of freedom, equality, and fairness."

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Everybody rates Roberts' chances of confirmation as elevated. Two years ago, a Senate committee approved his appeals court nomination 16-3. It's also worth knowing that back in 1992, when Democrats controlled the Senate, Roberts' nomination for federal court stalled.

The Los Angeles Timesoffers the most detail on White House officials' description of Bush's decision-making process: Reportedly, he interviewed five candidates over the past few days and sealed the deal at about noon yesterday. As for Judge Edith Clement, the White House suggested she was, at least, one of the finalists.

Confirmation hearings will probably begin after the summer recess, about early September.

Out of curiosity:Were previous Supreme nominations handled  in the same way that Bush just did it, a primetime announcement with no questions?

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USAT, NYT, and LAT all front the assassination of two Sunnis who were involved in drafting Iraq's constitution. It's just latest case of insurgents targeting Sunnis who work with the government. One Sunni member of the constitution-writing committee told reporters that the government has ignored requests for guards. "We are neglected, and no one cares about us," he said. USAT quotes the official saying the rest of the Sunnis on the panel will withdraw until they get protection.

Also yesterday, 10 Iraqi contractors were killed as their minibus approached work at a U.S. military base. The NYT says there were no suicide bombings for a second day a row.

The NYT notes inside that Ahmed Chalabi is moving to purge nearly 30 staff members of the tribunal for Saddam Hussein, including the court's chief investigative judge. Chalabi, who heads Iraq's deBaathification squad, wants the staffers canned for once being party members. Prosecutors and judges during Saddam's era were required to be card-carrying members of the Baathist party.

Most of the papers reefer a Pentagon report that raises red flags about China's growing military power. As the Post emphasizes, the report was at the center of much administration infighting. The result is a somewhat mixed report, which in turn begets mixed coverage. The LAT's subhead: "With the arms buildup, Beijing could flex its muscle across Asia, the report cautions." The NYT: "CHINA'S MILITARY GEARED TO DETERRING TAIWAN, REPORT SAYS."

The WP notices inside that the administration came out against a bipartisan bill that would create a federal shield law for journalists. The bill says journalists can stay mum about their sources unless there is "imminent and actual harm to national security." A Justice Dept. official told a Senate committee that such a law would not only be "bad public policy" but would impair the government's ability to, of course, "fight terrorism."