Roberts, The Smartest Man in the Room

As one watched the Senate Confirmation Hearings of Supreme Court nominee, Judge John Roberts Jr., two things should have been obvious. First, despite the best efforts of such Democratic senators as Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts or Joseph Biden of Delaware to show otherwise, there really was no indication that Judge Roberts was anything but qualified to become the next Chief Justice of the United States. And second, Judge Roberts was the smartest person in the room. These two observations come in the context of one reality: Democrats could do nothing to stop Judge Roberts from being confirmed nor should they feel they needed to. As one Republican senator noted, President Bush was elected to a second term, and pledged in both his campaigns that if given the opportunity, he would nominate a strict-constructionist judge in the mold of current Justices Scalia and Thomas to the Supreme Court. And while the hearings appear to have revealed that Judge Roberts would be a little less narrow in interpreting the law than those two justices, it can be inferred from his answers that he is a solid conservative judge. His conservatism doesn’t mean Democrats should not vote to confirm him. What they believe to be the threats of Chief Justice Roberts voting to restrict their notion of civil rights or to overturn Roe v. Wade are, as the Washington Post said in its editorial piece in favor of Roberts’ confirmation, “The risks the public incurred in reelecting President Bush.” The hearings also showed Judge Roberts’ strong belief that the Supreme Court should have the limited role of interpreting the law, and that policy-making is the task of the legislature, not the court. As Judge Roberts said of himself, he is not an ideologue and has no political agenda. And having clerked for former Chief Justice William Renquist, worked in the White House Council’s office during the Reagan administration, and most recently, served as a judge on the Washington D.C. Court of Appeals, no one doubts Judge Roberts’ legal credentials. In short, he is not only considered by many to be one of the best lawyers in the country, but also one of the finest legal minds. If he is not worthy of a position on the Supreme Court, no one is. Or as the Washington Post put it, “Broad opposition by Democrats to Judge Roberts would send the message that there is no conservative capable of winning their support.” But since it is politics and not the law which concerned most of the Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, since a member of their party did not make the nomination, and since they have limited power as the minority in a democratically elected government, they did the only thing they could do. They asked Judge Roberts questions about specific issues which may soon come before the Supreme Court, and thus be under consideration by a Chief Justice Roberts. Judge Roberts had an ethical obligation to refuse to answer those questions, on the grounds that any future plaintiff or defendant arguing before the Supreme Court needs to have confidence that he or she is doing so in front of objective and open-minded justices. But when he fulfilled this obligation some Democratic senators cried foul. Some tried to rephrase their questions in an attempt to get the calm and patient nominee to reveal whether or not he would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade or to expand or restrict civil rights, apparently hoping the judge would suddenly become confused and tell them what they wanted to hear. In a piece in the Washington Post, E. J. Dionne Jr. echoed the sentiments of the Democratic senators, arguing that Judge Roberts’ refusal to answer such questions is, “why as many senators as possible should vote no on Roberts – by way of saying no to this charade.” But Judge Roberts was just doing what any good judge would do. And the Democratic senators were just doing what any losing politicians would do. The only charade to speak of was the actions of democratic senators who pretended that their opposition to Judge Roberts’ confirmation is anything but political. In the end, Judge Roberts will become the next Chief Justice of the United States. The Democrats will lose and America will win. Senator Biden said that the confirmation process is not a coronation, meaning that the Senate is not supposed to simply give their stamp of approval to the president’s nominee. But the process is also not an election. Judge Roberts did not sit before the Senate as a candidate. The Senate’s duty to give advice and consent to the president’s Supreme Court nominee does not mean only voting for a nominee that shares one’s political ideology or judicial philosophy. But that’s what this is all about to the Democratic senators who won’t vote to confirm John Roberts. They won’t vote for him because he doesn’t share their beliefs on abortion or gay rights, affirmative action or the death penalty. Senators can vote whichever way they like. But let’s not be mistaken about their motives. In the end these Democrats will lose their fight to prevent a qualified man from being the next Chief Justice of the United States. The Democrats will lose and America will win, a justice which has recently come often in American politics.