LAWFUEL – The Law News Network – In the August 1 issue of Newsweek (…

LAWFUEL – The Law News Network – In the August 1 issue of Newsweek (on newsstands Monday, July 25): John Roberts, the “regular guy” who could change the Supreme Court. Newsweek profiles the nominee and looks ahead to his confirmation hearings. Also in this issue: terror investigations in London and Egypt; hopes and fears as Saddam’s trial nears; and “searchers” who track down birth parents overseas. Plus, a profile of Disney TV star Raven Symone, and a look at Neil Diamond’s new album. (PRNewsFoto)

Roberts is an Old-Fashioned Kind of Conservative, Loyal Not So Much to Any
Political Movement as to Traditional Institutions

‘Bush Threaded the Needle With Roberts,’ says Top Senate Aide

NEW YORK, July 24 /PRNewswire/ — John Roberts is a conservative, to be
sure, but of an old-fashioned kind, write Assistant Managing Editor Evan
Thomas and Contributing Editor Stuart Taylor Jr. in their profile of the
Supreme Court nominee in the current issue of Newsweek. “He is not so much
loyal to any political movement as he is to traditional institutions — to his
church (he is a practicing Roman Catholic), to his family (he is married and
has two adopted children, ages 4 and 5), to his schools (he is ‘romantic about
all things Harvard,’ a fellow law clerk says) and, most importantly, to the

In the August 1 Newsweek cover, “How Right?” (on newsstands Monday, July
25), Thomas and Taylor Jr. write that Roberts’s marginal involvement as a
political activist suggests that he is not the hard-line ideologue that true
believers on both sides had hoped for. “The right, agitating to rescue the
high court from liberals and muddy centrists, and the left, devoutly wishing
to have a Bush nominee to rail against, could barely hide their disappointment
with Roberts’s lack of a red-meat resume. Barring unforeseen and unlikely
bombshells, Roberts seems destined to be confirmed without the kind of stormy
melodrama that boosts cable-TV ratings and fills the coffers of activist
groups in Washington.”

Two intriguing items about Roberts widely reported in the mainstream media
— that he earned the president’s undying gratitude for the role he played on
George Bush’s legal team in the epic court fight after the 2000 election, and
that he’s a member of the Federalist Society — aren’t true, report Thomas and
Taylor Jr. Roberts’s role in the case of Bush v. Gore was minimal, according
to colleagues who worked with him. And though he has attended occasional
dinners held by the Federalist Society, he is not a member and his involvement
is far less than that of a typical movement conservative.

On paper, Roberts is the classic meritocrat, a child of the rising middle
class who advances by educational achievement. But his home in Long Beach,
Ind., contained no history books, no encyclopedia, no flashcard games, and,
interestingly, no educational pressure from his parents, according to Kathy
Godbey, one of Roberts’s three sisters. Roberts rode his bike and played
Monopoly and Scrabble with his three sisters at night. At his strict Catholic
boarding school, Roberts was “self-directed,” says David Kirby, Roberts’s math
teacher and wrestling coach. “I’ve never seen anyone as highly motivated as
John.” At Harvard, he never had to take sides on either the left or right. He
held the door open for women, made up teasing nicknames for his roommates, and
studied ferociously.

A driven worker, Roberts was hospitalized for exhaustion after graduating
from law school, and before Supreme Court arguments (he has made 39 of them),
he is said to still behave like a neurotic grad student, relentlessly
shuffling index cards. (Prepared in every way, he takes a little package of
cold remedies into court with him, lest he develop a cough or the sniffles.)
Also among the personal details Newsweek reports about Roberts’s background:
Like his mentor Judge Henry Friendly, for whom Roberts clerked on the U.S.
Court of Appeals in New York, he drafts his own judicial opinions in longhand
on legal paper.

The real question, write Thomas and Taylor Jr., is whether Roberts can
overcome his respect for precedent to vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. That
appears doubtful. Dog Kmiec, who worked at the Justice Department, suspects
that Roberts thinks Roe is “too far out of the station” to roll back. Kmiec
characterized Roberts’s position on abortion as “probably close to the Kennedy
thinking,” meaning that he would be in the same camp as Justice Anthony
Kennedy, who voted to uphold Roe but to allow states to restrict abortion
rights in some cases, by, for instance, requiring parental notification and
consent for minors. Conservative true believers regard Kennedy, a Reagan
appointee, as a squishy turncoat and will be unhappy if Roberts sides with

Also in the cover package, Chief Political Correspondent Howard Fineman
and Deputy Washington Bureau Chief Debra Rosenberg report on preparations for
the Senate hearings on Roberts’s nomination. The judge arrived on the Hill for
rounds of Senate drop-bys last week armed with plenty of affability and tact.
With Republican Sen. Tom Coburn, an ardent pro-lifer looking for signals on
abortion, Roberts discussed family. From Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin, who in
2003 had voted against him for the U.S. Court of Appeals, he accepted a
biography about a crusading Southern judge — and, according to a Senate aide,
conveyed a sense that he understood the message about the need to fight for
the powerless. With Sen. Ted Kennedy, another 2003 “no” vote, Roberts engaged
in a blarneython about shared family roots in Ireland.

The White House and its allies weren’t relying on Roberts to make his own
case, however, write Fineman and Rosenberg. As Bush’s choice was announced,
conservative allies spread words of reassurance to leaders such as James
Dobson of Focus on the Family. On the Hill, Karl Rove lured movement
conservatives such as Rep. Mike Spence into the Roberts tent by giving them
lead roles in the sales campaign. The off-Hill message machine kicked into
gear, too, with TV and radio ads calling on the Senate to give Roberts a
prompt, fair hearing.

Flummoxed Democrats responded cautiously. Politics is a game of
comparison, and Roberts benefits from who he isn’t — hardcore federal appeals
court Judge Michael Luttig, for example. “Luttig would have produced all-out
war,” said a top Senate aide, who insisted on anonymity to protect his boss’s
options. “Bush threaded the needle with Roberts.” Knowing that they may have
to deal with two or three other nominations, the Democrats seem inclined, at
least for now, to save their ammunition for more desperate battles. Democrats
may also want to pipe down on Roberts so they can focus on Rove’s role in the
CIA leak probe, write Fineman and Rosenberg. “This could be at least a three-
act play,” said the Senate aide.

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