President George W. Bush's choice to fill the vacancy left by the death of Chief Justice William Rehnquist only intensifies interest in the question: ``So who is John Roberts, anyway?'' 2

President George W. Bush’s choice to fill the vacancy left by the death of Chief Justice William Rehnquist only intensifies interest in the question: “So who is John Roberts, anyway?”

Senate hearings, now postponed until Thursday at the earliest, likely won’t be much help in answering the question.

First Roberts must grin his way silently through a wind tunnel of senatorial eloquence called “opening statements.” Then he’ll be pelted with questions designed either to flatter him or to corner him, and he’ll respond by declining to say anything that might get him in trouble.

No, if you want to get to know Roberts — not only how his mind works but also his approach to public life — there’s a better way: Take a look at memos he wrote from 1982 to 1986, when he served as a young lawyer in the White House Office of Legal Counsel under Ronald Reagan.

Last month the Reagan presidential library released thousands of pages of files on Roberts, and dozens of his memos have been summarized and quoted in news accounts.

What they show is this: Roberts is a Reaganite. You can’t understand him without reference to the man who brought him into public life.

At Ease

The memos Roberts wrote show him at ease with Reagan’s position on the defining legal issues of the day. He shared, most notably, the president’s skepticism about a constitutional “right to privacy,” government-sanctioned race-based preferences and judicial second-guessing of Congress and the marketplace.

When a judge in Washington state endorsed “comparable worth” plans, designed to compensate women for past discrimination by mandating salary levels in the workplace, an appalled Roberts wrote a memo to his boss, White House counsel Fred Fielding.

“It is difficult to exaggerate the perniciousness of the `comparable worth’ theory,” Roberts wrote. “It mandates nothing less than the central planning of the economy by judges.”

A true Reaganite is a Reaganite first and a Republican second. Roberts found it particularly galling that three Republican congresswomen had urged the White House to endorse the judge’s “comparable worth” decision.

Scroll to Top