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Prayers for Roberts.

When he went on national TV to announce is nomination of John Roberts to the Supreme Court, President Bush was smirkier than ever. He acted like he'd just dealt himself four aces from the bottom of the deck while no one was looking.

Fox News immediately hailed the choice, with one correspondent quoting a conservative who called Roberts a "hundred percenter"--a staunch right-winger down the line.

Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, James Dobson, Phyllis Schlafly, Lou Sheldon, Tony Perkins, and Beverly LaHaye all gave Roberts their blessing.

"The nomination of Judge John G. Roberts is an answer to the prayers of millions of Americans," announced the Reverend Rob Schenck of the National Clergy Council.

Robertson also saw the hand of God at work.

"With the likelihood of multiple vacancies on the court, you and I are witnessing the direct result of prayer and intercession," he said, after Sandra Day O'Connor announced her resignation. "Two years ago, I felt an urgent need for people to unite and pray for change in the Supreme Court.... We asked our partners and viewers to pray for God to intervene and restore righteousness and justice in our land. Tens of thousands of people responded to this massive prayer offensive and cried out to the Lord to change the court. And God heard those prayers."

There is the possibility that the Lord may be hard of hearing and that Roberts will not turn out to be as rightwing as Robertson and his brethren and sistren believe.

But they certainly have grounds for hope.

Practically from the day he left Harvard Law School, Roberts donated almost all of his brain to the Republican Party and to corporate interests.

When he was just twenty-six, 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 to the right of even 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. 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."

This was typical of Roberts at the time. "He was a significant backstage player in the legal policy debates of the early Reagan Administration," The Washington Post reported in another piece. "Roberts argued for restrictions on the rights of prisoners to litigate their grievances; depicted as 'judicial activism' a lower court's order requiring a sign-language interpreter for a hearing-impaired public school student who had already been given a hearing aid and tutors; and argued for wider latitude for prosecutors and police to question suspects out of the presence of their attorneys." He also advocated "a narrow interpretation of Title IX, the landmark law that bars sex discrimination in intercollegiate athletic programs," the Post reported. And he urged the Administration not to "intervene on behalf of female inmates in a sex discrimination case."

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. Here he was understudy to none other than Kenneth Starr. And it was in this capacity that Roberts argued that Roe v. Wade should be overturned, among other reactionary positions.

Senate Democrats have sent a letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales requesting information on sixteen cases Roberts was involved in as deputy solicitor general under President Bush the elder. Roberts signed briefs in about eighty-one cases, seventy-eight of which were argued before the Supreme Court, the Democrats pointed out, and his office was involved in hundreds more cases during his tenure there.

Many of the landmark cases mentioned in the letter concern profound matters of policy on abortion, privacy, civil rights, school desegregation, and due process.

Rust v. Sullivan (1991)--In this case, Roberts persuaded the Court to uphold the prohibition on using federal funds in family planning clinics where abortions were performed.

Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992)--Roberts's boss, Solicitor General Ken Starr, urged the Court to uphold various Pennsylvania restrictions on the right to an abortion. He was largely successful.

Board of Education of Oklahoma City v. Dowell (1991)--Starr, with Roberts in tow, and acting in an amicus capacity, successfully argued for limiting the busing requirements of school districts.

Franklin v. Gwinnett County Public Schools (1992)--The solicitor general's office, with Roberts's participation, unsuccessfully argued that a female student who suffered sexual harassment could not receive damage awards under Title IX, which prohibits sexual discrimination in public schools.

Freeman v. Pitts (1992)--Starr argued, again with Roberts's assistance, that a Georgia public school need not make further attempts at desegregation. The Court agreed.

Herrera v. Collins (1993)--Roberts signed on to the brief from the solicitor general's office that successfully argued that a convicted murderer who furnished evidence of actual innocence ten years later was not entitled to a federal rehearing before execution.

Lee v. Weisman (1992)--Starr, with Roberts on board, failed to convince the Court that it was OK to have clergy offering prayers at official public school ceremonies. The decision was 5 to 4.

Voinovich v. Quilter (1993)--The solicitor general's office, with Roberts's participation, got the Court to agree unanimously that a redistricting scheme that allegedly diluted the power of minority voters did not violate the Voting Rights Act.

Withrow v. Williams (1993)--Roberts convinced the Court that a murder suspect who was threatened with being locked up and then made incriminating comments did not have his Miranda rights violated even though the police gave him his Miranda warning only after his comments.

So far the Administration has invoked attorney-client privilege to avoid providing documents of Roberts's work in the solicitor general's office. The particular cases here, and their importance to all citizens, show how specious that claim is. His client was the President of the United States acting in his official capacity. The public deserves to know what Roberts has to say about all of these matters, and how he will treat similar issues that come up when and if he is sitting on the other side of the Supreme Court bench.

Roberts has always been a partisan. He served on he legal team for the Bush-Quayle ticket in 988 and the Bush-Cheney ticket in 2000, and he also coughed up $1,000 for Bush-Cheney that year. But his assistance went well beyond that. He actually played a behind-the-scenes role in the legal maneuvering in Florida in 2000 after the voting booths closed.

Roberts flew down to Tallahassee to meet with Governor Jeb Bush "to share what he believed the governor's responsibilities were under federal law," said the governor's spokesman, Jacob DiPietre. According to The Miami Herald, Roberts "came to Tallahassee to advise the state's Republican administration as it was trying to prevent a Democratic end-run that the GOP feared might give the election to Al Gore." The Democrats had considered a maneuver that would have prevented Florida from sending its list of official electors to the Electoral College on time. Had that happened, Gore would have had more electoral votes than Bush, the Herald noted, so Roberts gave advice on how to thwart such a move.

But that's not all Roberts did. He also served "as legal consultant, lawsuit editor, and prep coach for arguments before the nation's highest court," the Herald reported. Roberts was in Tallahassee for "a week to ten days," according to Ted Cruz, a Bush aide at the time who recruited Roberts for the job. Both Cruz and Theodore Olson said Roberts helped Olson "in a dress rehearsal to prepare the Bush legal team for the U.S. Supreme Court," the Herald said.

Roberts's work for the Bush campaign came free of charge.

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."

While Roberts has been on both sides of some business issues, as he argued against Microsoft in one instance and against developers in Lake Tahoe in another, almost all of his work was in defense of corporate interests.

He represented mining companies in at least two cases: one, defending their practice of mountaintop removal, and the other, supporting their effort to slap criminal contempt fines on striking workers.

He also represented Toyota in a 2002 case that he won at the Supreme Court, which decided to limit the scope of the ADA, making it much more difficult for persons with disabilities to seek redress.

And Roberts argued two cases for the state of Alaska against the rights of Native Americans. "In two landmark cases, Roberts has argued that the rights of the state of Alaska supercede the sovereignty and subsistence rights guaranteed to Native peoples by the federal government," said Luci Beach, a member of the steering committee of the Gwich'in tribe.

Roberts is 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." He also has been active in the Republican National Lawyers Association. And, while he denied being a member of the Federalist Society, it turned out that he was listed in a Federalist Society directory as being on its Washington Lawyers Steering Committee. Roberts spoke before the Federalist Society as recently as October 30, 2003.

(As an aside, Vice President Dick Cheney praised Roberts in a speech at the Federalist Society on November 15, 2001, when Roberts was up for appellate judge. Cheney also joked--or it was his idea of a joke--that he was appearing at the Federalist Society as "your token nonlawyer. Not that I have anything against lawyers. Looking around the room, I'd guess that a year ago, about half of you were down in Florida.")

Some liberals and progressives are secretly sighing could have been worse. That's slim solace. Kind of like preferring Orrin Hatch to Jesse Helms.

But there is a remote chance that Roberts, if confirmed, will not turn out to be God's gift to the right.

One glimmer of hope is the role Roberts played, while at Hogan & Hartson, in the 1996 Romer v. Evans case. Roberts joined other members of the firm in giving pro bono legal advice to the plaintiffs, who ultimately succeeded in overturning a homophobic provision of the Colorado constitution that had denied civil rights protections to gays. Roberts was brought in specifically to prep the plaintiffs' team in how to address the moderate and conservative justices.

Roberts also "joined a scathing denunciation of abortion-clinic bombers and urged Reagan to stay out of an effort to post tributes to God in Kentucky schools," Knight Ridder reported.

Another glimmer is the fact that Roberts represented homeless people who were suing the government because their benefits were being cut, and that he even assisted a defendant in a death penalty case.

Roberts's pronounced love of the law is providing an additional reed for some to lean on. He vows, anyway, to respect precedent and decide each case on its merits, rather than impose an overarching philosophy. If he means that, then the hackery of Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas may eventually grate on him.

Of course, some people of goodwill held out hopes for Clarence Thomas, and look where that got us.

All in all, it's hard to believe that Bush would pick someone who would not reliably advance his rightwing agenda. Dick Cheney and Karl Rove and Scooter Libby, the triumvirate of ideological purity, personally vetted Roberts as far back as May 3, long before O'Connor's resignation, and they huddled with him on subsequent occasions. They undoubtedly reassured themselves that he was a sturdy warrior in their cause, one who would not tire or stray, as David Souter and Anthony Kennedy and O'Connor herself did.

When it comes to ideology, these guys know what they're doing. It's unlikely that Roberts will ever wipe that smirk off the President's face.
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Title Annotation:John G. Roberts' nomination as supreme court judge
Publication:The Progressive
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2005
Previous Article:Troubletown.
Next Article:The rest of the story.

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