October 3, 2005

What was John Roberts like on his first day?

He's not wearing the Rehnquistian gold stripes on his robe, Dahlia Lithwick reports:
So, how does Roberts look in the chief justice's chair? As though he were born to it, quite frankly. He is clearly prepared for argument. He listens intently to his colleagues' questions and watches them while they speak. His first exchange with Phillips shores up his credentials as a strict constructionist: "So, your approach introduces a third concept … and that's nowhere in the statute." He goes back and forth several times in this first colloquy and is quickly confident enough to retort: "That's my question." He juggles counsels' names, time limits, and a stack of briefs as though he's been doing it all his life. The fact that Roberts' umbilical cord was being cut when most of his colleagues were already practicing law is irrelevant. He is absolutely ready to lead them.
Hyper-competent. That's the way I like my Supreme Court Justices.


Jack Roy said...

Reassuring anecdote, although I don't think anyone ever doubted he was smart enough for the job.

And that he lost the gold stripes is, naturally, a very good sign.

Too Many Jims said...

"Hyper-competent. That's the way I like my Supreme Court Justices."

One out of two ain't bad.

pct said...

Lithwick is far better as a local colorist than an essayist. Her comments on Harriet Miers had already been made more acerbically by other, conservative, bloggers. But the actual description of the oral arguments was wonderful.

vnjagvet said...

High praise indeed from a commentator that was somewhat snide during the confirmation process.

EddieP said...

Apparently of to a great start! Someone hand Chuckie Schumer a drool cup.

mcparsons said...

Predictable. Now we are going to hear what great qualifications Roberts has, unlike the current nominee. Just like: "Reagan was such a great uniter unlike the current president."

Suggested pool of nominees for the next vacancy: All those with the sense to withold judgement on this poor woman until she has had her hearing. I am disgusted with these "principled" commentators who claim that every nominee deserves an up or down vote except for this one who doesn't even deserve a chance to speak.

Troy said...

I wonder if any of the Miers brouhaha stem from her not doing us the favor of coming from a top 25 school? Where would this country be without its Yale, Harvard, Michigan, Texas, and Stanford Law grads? Without such Olympian wisdom that can only be gained by sucking the Crimson teat of jurisprudence or clerking for a circuit court judge or student editing at a law review how can she possibly be deemed worthy?

Adam said...

"this poor woman"? P'shaw. We're talking about someone who's been White House Counsel, managing partner of a major law firm and president of a state bar association. Don't condescend.

Yevgeny Vilensky said...


I think you're totally wrong here. People would have been very happy with either Edith Clement (Tulane Law) or Karen Williams (South Carolina Law), both of whom went to schools no better than SMU. The law school issue is not the reason at all. In fact, read Zywicki's and Bernstein's response to the Miers nomination on the Volokh blog (how it's a good thing that she's not from the Holy Trinity), or Ninomania's David Wagner who expresses much the same point. Yet all of them are disappointed in the nomination.

I think that the issue is that we were promised someone who will move the Court to the Right philosophically. Miers is clearly not that person. I think that Roberts might be and that's why most people on the Right supported him. Too often you have justices with no discernible judicial philosophy. That's when you get O'Connor's idiotic 10-point balancing tests. As a lawyer friend of mine says, "If you have a 10-point balancing test, it ceases to be a balancing test." See O'Connor's recent votes on the 10 Commandments cases for lack of philosophical outlook at work. As a libertarian, I actually like O'Connor. But she's no Posner, Epstein, or Barnett. Fair-weather conservatism/libertarianism is nice on those occasions when the votes happen to fall your way. But sometimes watching supposed conservatives like Souter, Kennedy, and O'Connor could pass for a random number generator. Frankly, I'm of the opinion that Souter and Kennedy were out of their league intellectually. I am afraid that Miers is probably as well.

On a positive note, she was a math major. As a math grad student, I take that as a major positive. I think that it might at least point in the direction of an analytical mind. But so far, she has not demonstrated the type of theoretical insight that people like McConnell, Batchelder, or Brown would have brought to the Court.

Troy said...


I wasn't attempting to state a bias -- more wondering aloud I guess.

I tend towards disappointment too I guess. I would like to trust Bush. I've voted for the man 4 times since '94 and think he's a damn sight better than Clinton, Gore, and Kerry.

His domestic issues have burned his trust with me. I would like to rely on "trust me" but that doesn't work with any politician.

She could turn out to be an (My) Antonia Scalia or an Abe Fortas or worse -- a Sandra Day O'Connor.

People I know in the Dallas Bar seem to really like her and they vouch for her conservative cred. And I would like to remind many that Sen. Phil Gramm was a Democrat until the mid 1980s so I don't draw much from her '80s Dem money.

Yevgeny Vilensky said...


Point taken. I do think, however, that people are way too harsh on O'Connor. Sure, if abortion and the preservation of sodomy laws are your sole issues, then she'd be a huge problem. I actually thought that she voted correctly (in my humble non-lawyerly view) most of the time. Her reasoning wasn't always so great. I thought that her dissents in Raich and in Kelo were excellent.

Look, O'Connor is by no stretch worse than Fortas. I do wish she had a clue as to what her principles were. All too often, the word "moderate" or "pragmatist" has been used to basically mean "without any principles." But she really wasn't that bad and conservatives should quit bashing her. Of course, she's not nearly as philosophical as Scalia, Thomas, or Rehnquist. On the other hand, though, her votes weren't all that bad. When push came to shove, on issues like Federalism, she was excellent.

I think that too many people are willing to give away the game simply to have pro-lifers on the Court. For example, Scalia totally sold out in Raich. If Roe v. Wade were on the line, he'd overturn it in a heartbeat. But he wasn't willing to pair down Wickard (in my opinion likely because he doesn't like drugs), even though he has publicly stated that he disagreed with it. I think that Federalism is much much more important than issues like abortion or whether people can engage in consensual sodomy in the privacy of their own home.

erp said...

Will everyone please cut Bush some slack and stop criticizing before the facts are known.

Bruce Hayden said...

Yevgeny Vilensky

I didn't know that she was a math major. That is great (I was too). But that may mean that she ends up being the anti-O'Connor. One of the things that math majors tend to like (IMHO) is elegance. And ten part balancing tests are not elegant.

I went from math to computer science (to law). And when I would find an algorithm that was messy. That had 10 or 100 exceptions, I knew that I didn't understand it well enough yet. And would go back to the drawing table.

It is hard to believe that a math major would be happy with 10 point balancing tests, or race based preferences in law school admissions for 25 years (why 25?), but cut off thereafter, etc.

Ann Althouse said...

Bruce: Keep in mind that Larry Tribe was a big math major before he went to law school.

Ann Althouse said...

Bruce: I did a front page post raising the math subject. I hope you'll contribute to the comments over there.

James said...
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