John Roberts and the Smirking Man
July 23, 2005
I was away on vacation when Bush announced John Roberts as his nominee for the Supreme Court.
Against my better judgment, I interrupted that vacation to watch Bush’s speech on TV, and he was smirkier than ever.
He looked like he’d just dealt himself four aces from the bottom of the deck while no one was paying attention.
Then for some bizarre reason I watched Fox News for the reaction to the Roberts choice, and euphoric it was. One correspondent said Roberts was a “hundred percenter”—that he was a staunch conservative all down the line.
And so he seems.
Practically from the day he left Harvard Law School, Roberts has donated his brain to the Republican Party and to corporate interests.
When he was just 26, he began work as a Special Assistant to Reagan’s Attorney General William French Smith. A year later, he moved over to the White House as Associate Counsel to the President, where he served until 1986.
There, at least on the busing issue, Roberts was even to the right of Theodore Olson (who led George W. Bush’s 2000 legal team). In 1984, Olson was Assistant Attorney General, and Olson did not believe the Reagan Administration should endorse rightwing legislation that would have prohibited judges “from ordering busing to desegregate schools,” according to an article in The Washington Post by Jo Becker and Amy Argetsinger. But Roberts argued in favor of the legislation, saying that Congress could prohibit school busing on the claim that it “promotes segregation rather than remedying it, by precipitating white flight.”
From 1989 to 1993, he was Bush I’s Deputy Solicitor General, where he helped formulate the Administration’s legal positions and then advocated them before the Supreme Court. It was in this capacity that he argued that Roe v. Wade should be overturned, among other reactionary positions.
Roberts reappeared in Florida after the 2000 elections to help out Jeb Bush with the legal shenanigans that ensured his brother the White House. “The governor’s office issued a statement on Wednesday confirming that Roberts had come to Tallahassee, Fla, at his own expense during the recount, and said he advised Gov. Bush on his responsibilities under Florida law in the disputed Presidential election,” wrote William E. Gibson of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
It was hardly dispassionate advice since, as Gibson reported, Roberts had contributed $1,000 to George W. Bush’s campaign and “took an active role in the Republican National Lawyers Association, a group that promises to build ‘Republican Party goals and ideals.’ ”
For his loyalty, Bush II put him on the appellate court and now has promoted him.
In between serving his Republican masters, Roberts worked at Hogan & Hartson in Washington, where he represented one corporate interest after another.
“In John G. Roberts Jr., many of the corporate chieftains who helped put President Bush in the White House see a Supreme Court nominee with whom they can do business,” wrote Paul Adams of the Baltimore Sun. “That’s partly because many of them have already.”
He represented mining companies in at least two cases, one defending their practice of mountaintop removal, and the other, supporting their effort to use “criminal contempt fines to force the end of a strike which had been ruled unlawful,” according to wikipedia.com. (He lost the latter one unanimously.)
The Baltimore Sun article did note, however, that Roberts has been on both sides of some business issues, citing his work against Microsoft in one instance and against developers in Lake Tahoe in another.
But his overall approach is decidedly pro-business. He’s a member of the National Legal Center for the Public Interest, whose mission statement stresses its commitment to “free enterprise,” “private ownership of property,” “limited government,” and a “balanced use of private and public resources.”
Many mainstream pundits are exclaiming that Bush’s appointment could have been worse, but that’s slim solace.
On reproductive rights, the environment, disability rights, media reform, corporate power, and criminal justice, Roberts’s conservative colors shine through.
Democratic Senators are under no obligation to confirm Roberts and to fold in front of the smirking man.
The last laugh could be on us.