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John Roberts - a player from inside the Beltway...
Platt Liebau] 8/1/05
President Bush's nomination of Judge John Roberts to the U.S. Supreme Court
is an inspired choice, given Roberts' intellect, temperament and integrity.
For conservatives, often burned in recent years by supposedly conservative
judges who have turned left during their tenure on the Court, the selection
should also be a profoundly reassuring one.
John Roberts comes from inside the Beltway. Certainly, for
conservatives, the term is often one of opprobrium, but it
may be time for them to rethink their storied aversion to the
phrase, at least when the stakes involve a lifetime seat on
the Supreme Court. Paradoxically, the fact that Judge Roberts
is a long-time Washingtonian suggests that he may be immune
to the forces that have prompted post-nomination conversions
to Beltway thinking by other supposedly "conservative" justices
in the past.
Carol Platt Liebau - Senior
Platt Liebau is editorial director and a senior member of tOR and CRO editorial
boards. She is an attorney, political analyst and commentator
based in San Marino, CA, and has appeared on the Fox News
Channel, MSNBC, CNN, Orange County News Channel, Cox Cable
and a variety of radio programs throughout the United States.
A graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School,
Carol Platt Liebau also served as the first female managing
editor of the Harvard Law Review. Her web log can be found
[go to Liebau index]
On the current Supreme Court, the most reliable conservative
votes are those of Chief Justice William Rehnquist, Justice Antonin
Scalia and Justice Clarence Thomas. Is it a coincidence that
all three, like John Roberts, had substantial Washington experience
before being named to the Supreme Court?
The Chief Justice had served as a law clerk to Justice Robert
H. Jackson and as Assistant Attorney General from 1969 to 1971.
Justice Scalia headed the Justice Department's Office of Legal
Counsel during the Nixon Administration, and served for four
years on the D.C. Circuit before being nominated to the Court.
And Justice Clarence Thomas, another D.C. Circuit alumnus, had
previously served as a legislative assistant for Senator John
Danforth, assistant secretary for civil rights in the Reagan
Department of Education, and as director of the Equal Employment
This wealth of Beltway experience (a good deal of it partisan)
is a sharp contrast to the biographies of conservative disappointments
selected by Republican presidents over the past years. Go down
the list -- Harry Blackmun of Minnesota, Sandra Day O'Connor
of Arizona, Anthony Kennedy of California, David Souter of New
Hampshire -- none of them had any Washington, D.C. experience
before being nominated to the Supreme Court.
Roberts's biography, of course, is far more consistent with
the biographies of Rehnquist, Scalia and Thomas. After clerking
for then-Associate Justice Rehnquist, Roberts went on to serve
in the offices of the Attorney General and the White House Counsel,
and was also Principal Deputy Solicitor General for Kenneth Starr
during the first Bush administration. He practiced law as a Supreme
Court litigator before being confirmed to the U.S. Court of Appeals
for the D.C. Circuit in May of 2003. He is someone who understands
the capital city well.
His extensive Washington experience may help immunize Roberts
to the blandishments of the Beltway establishment. Unlike Justices
O'Connor, Kennedy or Souter, Roberts won't be embarking on a
new life in a strange city, a place with unique rules, rhythms
and customs. And because of his extensive experience with the
Supreme Court as a litigator and as principal deputy solicitor
general, he won't be desperate for guidance from any of the other
justices, a circumstance in which conservative novices can be
excessively influenced by a liberal justice willing to serve
as a mentor. Nor will Roberts be in need of a new social network,
a factor that can insidiously influence newcomers feted by the
liberals in the elite press and among the city's prominent social
Certainly there are many excellent candidates for the Supreme
Court in many of America's circuit (or state supreme) courts.
And doubtless many of them have the fortitude, stamina, and conviction
to resist even the most subtle local pressures. But given that
conservatives have been surprised and disappointed in fully half
their recent Supreme Court nominations, it makes good, solid
sense to play the odds.
And those odds suggest that John Roberts' pre-nomination experience
inside the Beltway has produced a Supreme Court nominee of strong,
principled, and stable conviction.tOR
This piece first appeared at American Spectator
Carol Platt Liebau is a political analyst, commentator and
theOneRepublic / CaliforniaRepublic.org editorial
director based in San Marino, CA. Ms. Liebau also served
as the first female managing editor of the Harvard Law Review.
Her web log can be found at CarolLiebau.blogspot.com