August 3, 2005

The humble judge.

Supreme Court nominee John Roberts has submitted 83-pages of response to 10 pages of questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee. The NYT article forefronts some verbiage about judicial "modesty":
"Judges must be constantly aware that their role, while important, is limited," Judge Roberts wrote. "They do not have a commission to solve society's problems, as they see them, but simply to decide cases before them according to the rule of law."

That seems like total boilerplate -- nice enough boilerplate, but boilerplate nonetheless -- and makes me think there's not going to be anything of note in the article, but I'm going to read it for you anyway.

Okay. It's interesting, perhaps, that his net worth is $5.3 million and that he was first interviewed for the Supreme Court opening -- by Alberto Gonzales, a competitor for the seat -- three months before O'Connor announced her retirement. He continues to have no memory of any connection with the Federalist Society, including serving on that steering committee that listed him. Not much else.

There is a link to a National Archives page with 14,000 pages of documents written by Roberts. You'll have to read those for yourself. Let me know if you find anything.


Mark Daniels said...

The Roberts quote that you cite is boilerplate, as you say. But it's "strict constructionist" boiler plate, appealing to President Bush's conservative base, but innocuous enough so as not to rile up liberals terribly.

Ann Althouse said...

Mark: It's perfectly consistent with what every liberal Justice on the Court says. They all claim to be doing just what the requires. Especially when they are going through confirmation -- they are all humble servants of the law.

Goesh said...

Johnny is my kind of fella' that's for sure. I hope his dancing son comes to visit Dad and does his thing again and puts a smile on Ruth's face. She seems awful prunish if you ask me.

DaveG said...

It's interesting, perhaps, that his net worth is $5.3 million

To you and me, that's a mildly interesting piece of trivia at best. But you can bet Bush's opponents will try to make hay out of that during the impending confirmation fiasco!

It confuses me as to why financially successful citizens are somehow suspect in this country. It's almost as if through their efforts to succeed they have somehow given up their rights as citizens to hold public office, or somehow made their motives suspect.

It'll be particularly ironic when some of our millionaire Senators inevitably try to make an issue out of this.

Bruce Hayden said...

I would have been much more surprised if his net worth had been significantly less. After all, the practice of law at the levels he practiced is most often quite lucrative.

Ann Althouse said...

It would speak ill of him, given the nature of his practice, if he hadn't saved a large pot of money and invested it well.

John Althouse Cohen said...

Everyone is leaving out the context of Roberts' statement. Look at question 28 in this PDF file. He was answering a leading question about "judicial activism." I don't see how any justice, liberal or conservative, could have reasonably answered the question without saying something along the lines of what Roberts said.

StrangerInTheseParts said...

'[Judges]do not have a commission to solve society's problems, as they see them, but simply to decide cases before them according to the rule of law'

Can't you read that as a veiled promise to roll back all the entitlements and whatnot from FDR and The Great Society in the 60's? As anti-affirmative action? And so on.

Put another way: which of society's problems does Roberts feel the Supreme Court should be butting out of?

John Althouse Cohen said...

Stranger: You're leaving out the part about "as they see them." Roberts is emphasizing the contrast between "the rule of law" and the justice's own beliefs and policy preferences. As my mom said, no liberal justice would disagree. Every liberal on the court would grant that they do not have the right to say, for instance, "Affirmative action is constitutional because I happen to believe that it's an effective way to rectify societal problems."

Would he outlaw affirmative action? I have no idea; I'd need to see what he thinks about the merits of that particular issue. His answer to the question about "judicial activism"—which he begins by saying that it's barely possible to make any general pronouncements about "judicial activism"—just doesn't specify.

As far as FDR and the Great Society, he might very well want to uphold the current constitutional law (though, again, no one knows, because he doesn't say). His response to the question about "judicial activism" includes a whole paragraph about the need to defer to past court decisions (which is paraphrased in the first sentence of the article that this blog post is about).

Liberals should question whether it's really a good strategy to put so much emphasis on innocuous things like this answer to a questionnaire and the footnote about Roe v. Wade that he put in a brief. I don't know why they're not afraid of a "Boy Who Cried Wolf" effect in case anything actually bad about Roberts (or another nominee) ever does turn up.

MaxedOutMama said...

No, it's not just boiler plate. Try this draft article from the archive on judicial restraint.

Actually, I like him and I like his way of thinking. IMO he's a far-seeing rationalist rather than a strong social conservative.

StrangerInTheseParts said...

John -

I agree with your post entirely. One can read the quote and just as easily wonder if Roberts isn't telegraphing that he won't touch Roe v. Wade.

I guess we're all just wondering if he is paleo-conservative or the more radical kind.

Has anyone written about who his close circle of friends are? The one trait that stands out about Roberts is that he is a team player, a bit of a people pleaser perhaps. He is not an iconoclast nor does he seem to have a maverick streak in him. He's a devout Catholic, not a born-again Protestant. I don't think he will rule in such a way as to betray the values of his close peer group lightly. His life story shows a preternatural affinity for fitting into a group.

At least (contra Bolton), he shows NO affinity for antagonizing / denigrating his opponents. There's a lot to be said for that trait alone, however conservative he turns out to be.

Mark Daniels said...

You make precisely the point I was trying, perhaps incoherently, to make in the first comment here. With the wording of Roberts' response, one could easily conclude that precedent and established law could lead him to uphold Roe v. Wade. That too, would conform to "strict constructionist" views. In the end, we can't know how he would judge on issues surrounding Roe and that's probably as it should be.

It appears likely that Roberts, like the justice he's been nominated to replace, will look at matters solely on a case-by-case basis, although with possibly different motives from those of Justice O'Connor. O'Connor was often thought to have avoided painting with too broad a brush in her opinions in order to give the Court (and her) the opportunity to revisit specific issues in light of ensuing changes in public perceptions and common practice. It enhanced her power and that of the Court.

Roberts appears to want to avoid grand pronouncements that violate his seeming belief that the Court is to be an unobtrusive referee rendering judgments based on a more fixed understanding of the Constitution and the law.