Skip to comments.He’s No Souter: Many liberals heartened by possibility of Justice Roberts. They shouldn’t be.
Posted on 07/21/2005 6:12:23 PM PDT by CHARLITE
Once upon a time, a Republican president distrustful of big government and enthralled with markets nominated a seemingly conservative man named Roberts to the Supreme Court. The president hoped and expected that long after he left the Oval Office, Justice Roberts would continue to do the work of his conservative movement. But Justice Roberts bitterly disappointed his erstwhile supporters, rejecting claims of states rights against the national government and defending the rights of minorities against the assertions of the national security state.
A liberal fantasy? Hardly. The president was Herbert Hoover and the justice was Owen Roberts, who, in the famous switch in time that saved nine, sided with the majority in two critical 1937 cases that reversed the Courts long-standing hostility to progressive legislation. In 1944, Roberts dissented from the Courts infamous decision in Korematsu v. United States, which upheld the forced removal of persons of Japanese ancestry from their homes on the West Coast to relocation centers in the nations interior.
Might John Roberts follow in the footsteps of Owen Roberts? By now Republicans no doubt fret that this is a well-beaten path. In addition to Roberts, Earl Warren, William Brennan, Harry Blackmun, and, to a lesser extent, Sandra Day OConnor, Anthony Kennedy, and David Souter, have all disappointed Republican presidents by turning liberal -- at least on particular issues -- once safely ensconced in their respective Supreme Court seats.
There is some reason for liberals to be hopeful (and thus for conservatives to worry) about Roberts. Having observed several of his oral arguments in the Supreme Court, I agree with the nearly universal consensus that he is a brilliant lawyer. Gifted lawyers are sometimes ideologues, but overwhelming ideological commitments typically interfere with good lawyering. To make arguments effectively requires an ability to respond to the arguments of ones adversary, which in turn requires an ability to see -- and thus see what is wrong with -- the adversarys point of view. In his 1993 book, The Lost Lawyer, former Yale Law School Dean Anthony Kronman associated this consummate lawyers ability to simultaneously hold conflicting views in ones mind with a spirit of moderation and toleration. If Kronman is right, then -- as someone with the capacity to understand and articulate a range of views on nearly every issue -- as a justice, Roberts might be expected to rule differently on different issues, perhaps following in OConnors pragmatic, nonideological pattern.
That is a possibility, but a faint one. In anticipation of a Supreme Court vacancy, conservative groups have for years been rallying to the cry of no more Souters. David Souter was, of course, a stealth candidate in the sense that he lacked an extensive paper trail that purported to express his own personal views. Yet he proved too stealthy even for his supporters, for it turned out that Souter was and is a New England moderate.
Some on the far right drew the lesson that stealth candidates should be avoided at all costs, demanding a reliable movement conservative on record as calling for the reversal of Roe v. Wade, the invalidation of affirmative action, and the curtailment of gay rights. But this was never going to be a viable political strategy for a GOP that needs to curry favor with its religious conservative base without alienating the moderate center of American public opinion. What George W. Bush and the Republicans needed was a one-way stealth candidate, someone whose personal views on key constitutional issues were known by the administration to be reliably conservative but who appeared to outsiders as a cipher.
Has Bush found his one-way cipher in Roberts? Judging by the chatter on the news networks and the blogosphere, the answer appears to be yes. Democrats and liberal interest groups are calling for a full airing of the Roberts judicial philosophy, while Republicans and conservative groups are rallying to his defense under the banner of a dignified confirmation process (as though it is somehow undignified to ask a person nominated to a lifetime seat on the Supreme Court to explain what role he believes precedent ought to play in constitutional interpretation).
I doubt that President Bush directly sought from Roberts a commitment on particular issues, and as I share the general view of Roberts as a man of integrity, I am certain that if he were asked, he wouldnt have provided such assurances. So how can movement conservatives be confident that Roberts will vote as one of them?
The short answer is that they cannot be wholly confident, but the longer answer is that they can take considerable comfort from the company Roberts keeps. He clerked for then-Associate Justice William Rehnquist when Rehnquist was clearly the Courts most conservative member. He spent most of his career in the federal government, but only during Republican administrations. Thus, while Roberts is entitled to say that briefs he wrote, including those calling for the overruling of Roe, were in the service of a policy set by his political bosses, skeptics are equally entitled to ask why Roberts chose to work for these and not for other bosses.
Michael C. Dorf is the Michael I. Sovern Professor of Law at Columbia University. His 2004 book, Constitutional Law Stories tells the stories behind 15 leading constitutional cases. His next book, No Litmus Test: Law and Politics in the Twenty-First Century, will be published in early 2006
An interesting prediction. Maybe Roberts will turn out somewhat less conservative than we hope. But I don't see him turning liberal.
What a nice way of describing the high court's heinous betrayal of our Constitutional Republic.
Dorf is a liberal, there is a bit of wishful thinking here but in all honesty we don't know Roberts' judicial phiosophy and thats giving me a headache.
Like an amusement park ride. " You buys your ticket --you takes your chances" theres no guarantees.
You never can tell. Even if he is conservative, being in a position where your decree is as good as law can be a strong temptation to abuse it. Republican judges, unfortunately, have a history of going bad.
Intersting left-liberal take on Roberts.
President Roosevelt had a court-packing law in Congress. He had the votes to pass it, even though some of the backbenchers were complaining some. When Justice Roberts switched his vote from 5-4 against FDR to 5-4 for him, only then did the court-packing bill die in Congress.
Sloppy work, professor. You get an "F." See me. Write this over.
This is one of those rare moments that I hope that a liberal writer is correct.
Souter was unmarried and living with his mother at the time he was nominated. How such an anti-social person could be conceived as a good conservative pick is beyond me.
Souter is what Bush I wanted - someone who would continue the status quo. I hate W's father - I think he goes down as one of the worst Presidents in history. Spare the flames, cuz it's just my opinion.
who knows a few years down the roadraising kids can change a person
edited: who knows a few years down the road, raising kids can change a person
Plus, Congressman, I would hardly call Herbert Hoover leader of a "conservative movement." Hoover was always regarded as a somewhat "Progressive Republican" as opposed to the more forthrightly conservative, limited government envisioned by Calvin Coolidge. Hoover was not really averse to government programs, although he was averse to the wholesale shredding of the Constitution as practiced by the New Deal.
Yeah, so what? The writer's point stands - Roberts switched to the liberal position, while the other conservative justices didn't. And he stayed on the liberal side. The fact that he did so as a cave-in to FDR's pressure, doesn't mean he didn't switch. And the writer isn't a "doofus" for pointing out the switch.
Yes, we all can see that you have a knowledge of the 1937 episode. Aren't you bright. But while showing off your knowledge, you don't score any points against the writer.
Actually, the problem with this article is that it doesn't make a convincing case that Roberts won't move to the O'Connorish center or even further left. His whole argument is based on the fact Robert has "hung" with some conservatives. I don't think that proves any more than that he saw his best chance of becoming a Supreme Court Justice was by becoming a reliable lawyer for GOP administrations. It doesn't prove he's conservative.
I believe it also. He's definitely going to be to the right of O'Connor, plus I have to laugh at what someone said somewhere.........that O'Connor was qualified to be president of a local small town PTA and that's the limit of her intellectual capacities!
John G. Roberts is an intellectual giant, and I just don't see him drifting left. When one looks back on O'Connor, it seems that it might have been obvious (even back then) that she just didn't have "the right stuff" to be a reliable originalist.
Thanks for your comments, Archon!
This guys is just trying to hook some liberal fantasy by comparing apples and oranges.
Didn't Dorf do a golf instructional video a while back?
It may not even be that big of a bump, but I think you're essentially correct.
The proper approach to any situation is to get your facts in a row, and sort out what sources seem believeable, and which are shown to be questionable.
Then, of course, there is the shortcut that avoids all that. Just decide where your prejudices want you to go, and follow that route. Do you use the shortcut?
John / Billybob
Not that I wish headaches upon you, but I'm glad I'm not the only one.
I wonder, does the author therefore believe that upholding the Dred Scott decision was the right thing for the court to do before? Do wrong decisions never get reversed in the court? Shouldn't even Marbury v. Madison be up for debate if it is properly brought before the Supreme Court?
Or, like most leftists, does he enjoy liberal judicial activism and abhor conservative judicial activism? Typical hypocrit who can't keep his own narrow worldview out of his articles.
He did reference the switch in time that saved nine, which is shorthand for exactly what you just stated. It's a safe bet that people who read Dorf don't need it spelled out in so many words.
I wonder why we should have to settle. I think it's because GW is a putz. I think he broke his promise. Now everyone is adjusting their expectations downward, like we did when we all gave up on every finding WMD in Iraq.
Dittos on the headache.
No he's not. He didn't mention the court-packing plan, but his column isn't a disquesition about the 1930s. He said that Owen Roberts switched from conservative line to liberal line. That's not a lie. Roberts showed a disposition to switch that other conservatives on the court didn't/ The fact that it was in response to FDR pressure isn't relevant for the writer's point -- there are always reasons behind a switch; Souter doubtless has his reasons too. What matters is that the betrayal happened, not all the motivations.
Why is it Clinton can deliver a sure thing, but Republican Presidents refuse to?
"Souter was unmarried and living with his mother at the time he was nominated. How such an anti-social person could be conceived as a good conservative pick is beyond me.".....
Souter is a Weasel. Buzzy Ruths' lil errand boy. "Yes Ruthie...I will agree with any of your leftist rulings"
Blacked robed Weasel boy Souter is a squish!
In case you have trouble with that, allow me to make it explicit. Germany did not begin WW II in Europe until it had secured a Non-Agression Pact with the Soviet Union. Is it therefore the "truth" to say that Germany began that war by invading Poland, without also mentioning the Non-Agression Pact?
Or, another example: The American Revolution ended with the defeat of Cornwallis by Washington at Yorktowne. But that was possible only because the French fleet had trapped the English from the water side.
I repeat, the professor lied. And if you have bought his lie, you do not understand what you are talking about concerning Mr. Justice Roberts.
John / Billybob
Talk about deception - you say "Germany started WWII" - in fact Germany and USSR started it together. What you call - using the propaganda title contrived by Stalin and Hitler - a "nonagression pact" was actually a deal allowing them to jointly invade Poland. The Soviets were as responsible for starting WWII - they were as much the initial aggressors -- as was Hitler.
Now that you have stated it so clearly, do you understand the point? Or are you predisposed to buy what the professor is selling, and therefore inclined to overlook his historical errors?
John / Billybob
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