July 31, 2005

CONTRA THE BRENNANISTAS:

Supreme Court Nominee Stood Out for Conservative Rigor (ADAM LIPTAK and TODD S. PURDUM, 7/31/05, NY Times)

They are not exactly father and son, but they share a singular bond in an elite business: 25 years ago this summer, almost exactly half his lifetime ago, John G. Roberts went to work for William H. Rehnquist, and now he stands poised to become the first Supreme Court clerk in American history to sit on the bench alongside the justice he served.

His 13 months in the chambers of Justice Rehnquist spanned the period of the 1980 election and the dawn of the Reagan revolution in Washington. It was a heady time of relentless work, long walks on Capitol Hill discussing cases informally with the justice and sharp-elbowed basketball games in the Supreme Court gym, wryly referred to as the "highest court in the land."

It was a time when the Supreme Court was far different, more liberal, and that made John Roberts stand out among the other clerks.

"John's conservatism was in fact a sign of intellectual courage, coming out of Harvard and being surrounded by law clerks from mainly liberal, East Coast, Ivy institutions," said John A. Siliciano, a law professor at Cornell who clerked for Justice Thurgood Marshall at the same time.

His was "a very solid, rigorous, coherent view of very important social questions," Professor Siliciano said, "about the relations between courts and legislatures, about the relationship between the federal government and the state, between the public sphere and the private."

Fifteen of the 32 Supreme Court clerks in the 1980-81 term agreed to be interviewed about Mr. Roberts, including both of his fellow Rehnquist clerks. They offered a revealing portrait of an affable, ambitious and frankly conservative intellectual, much like his boss.

"John certainly was in sync with his justice," said Paul M. Smith, who clerked for Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. and is now a lawyer in Washington who frequently appears before the Supreme Court. [...]

Few if any of the memorandums found so far from Mr. Roberts's clerkship shed much light on his political leanings. They are, if anything, concise and reliant on procedural points. They do, however, bear the dry wit that so many have cited in describing Mr. Roberts's writings and personality.

Most justices hired clerks who shared their views. But the Rehnquist clerks did not wear their politics on their sleeves, said Robert B. Knauss, a Los Angeles lawyer who also clerked for the justice that year.

"Frankly, the people that did were the liberal clerks, who were more out there, more aggressive, more, frankly, intolerant," Mr. Knauss said. "There were a few that were pretty aggressive that would try to come into the chambers and lobby you."


You have to wonder if Mr. Rehnquist didn't have some input into this pick and if the assumption wasn't that Mr. Roberts would be the next Chief.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 31, 2005 11:01 AM
Comments

We're going to have a minority/female chief. Bush just crossed up the PC police by using his minority to replace the Chief, rather than Sandra.

Posted by: pj at July 31, 2005 9:09 PM
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