Liberals Worst Nightmare?

Via Southern Appeal. Here’s a true “insider” view on Judge Roberts. Official roberts CJ.jpg

Over the past several years, I have feared this day, the day that a “movement conservative” President—one who sees Scalia and Thomas as his model justices—nominates a replacement for the Court’s comparatively moderate centrist, Justice O’Connor. But as I saw Judge John Roberts striding alongside the President on the way to the podium Tuesday night, I actually felt a sense of . . . excitement.

Why? Twelve years ago, I was fortunate enough to be a summer associate at the Washington, D.C. law firm of Hogan & Hartson. Our summer class consisted of about 35 second-year law students from around the country. It was an extremely capable group, and I often felt like I did not belong.

Each of us was assigned an official ‘mentor’ for the summer, a Hogan lawyer who would review our portfolio of memos, consult with the lawyers for whom we had worked, and generally oversee our progress toward gaining a permanent offer from the firm. John Roberts was my summer mentor.

Of course, this was a bit intimidating. Roberts was the former deputy solicitor general, a man who had been nominated for the D.C. Circuit (but who had not been confirmed), and who now was back in private practice. He was the head of one of the most prestigious appellate law practices in the country. Yet, he could not have been nicer, more gracious, more encouraging. He offered mentoring advice to a snot-nosed, 24-year-old law student as if it were the most important part of his job.

After returning to Stanford that fall, I was lucky enough to have my student note published in the Stanford Law Review. It was a rather presumptuous and self-righteous critique of the Supreme Court’s decision in Freeman v. Pitts, a school desegregation case from DeKalb County, Georgia. I argued that the Court was pulling the rug out from under Brown v. Board of Education by prematurely ending court-ordered desegregation remedies. As deputy solicitor general in the first Bush Administration, Roberts had actually argued the Freeman case as amicus in support of the school district. I therefore (again, fairly presumptuously) sent him my note, in which I contended that, well, Roberts had been all wrong.

A few weeks later, I received a two-page letter in response. Roberts wrote that the note was well researched and well written. (I was thrilled at the time, but I would now strongly disagree.) But he also offered a thoughtful critique of my analysis that was several paragraphs in length. This was more feedback than I had received from my professors in law school.

So I have nothing but a profound sense of respect for John Roberts: for his integrity, his intelligence, his humility, and his genuine human decency.

All of that said, my best guess is that he would be a very conservative justice. And because he is so gifted and so decent a human being, he might become incredibly influential on the Court, moving it in ways that justices like Scalia and Thomas have been incapable. In short, he could ultimately be a progressive’s worst case scenario.

So all of this leaves me quite conflicted. I am proud that a citizen of John Roberts’s ability and character has been honored by our President in a way that, in a sense, he so richly deserves. But at the same time, I harbor some deep reservations. It is unclear that a great person with impeccable credentials should, for those reasons alone, be seated on the Supreme Court. If he holds a very constrained view of the role of government in modern society, or of the fundamental liberties protected by the Constitution, his confirmation could turn out quite badly for the country.

No matter how much I admire him.