Patterico's Pontifications


The Roberts Rorschach Test

Filed under: Dog Trainer,Judiciary — Patterico @ 7:13 am

John Roberts’s work for the Reagan Administration is apparently like a Rorschach test — you can see what you want to see.

An analysis by Knight-Ridder newspapers (h/t: How Appealing) looks at Roberts’s work in the White House counsel’s office, and sees evidence that Roberts is not a doctrinaire conservative:

WASHINGTON – As a legal adviser to President Reagan, Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts Jr. joined a scathing denunciation of abortion-clinic bombers and urged Reagan to stay out of an effort to post tributes to God in Kentucky schools.

Roberts’ advice, in documents Knight Ridder obtained before their public release later this month, might help him counter critics who portray him as a doctrinaire conservative. Abortion-rights groups and organizations that advocate a clear separation between church and state oppose his nomination.

. . . .

In the abortion-clinic case, Roberts was asked to respond to reports in 1986 that Reagan would consider granting presidential pardons to convicted bombers. . . . Roberts and his boss, deputy White House counsel Richard Hauser, suggested a strongly worded response that ruled out favors for clinic bombers.

“The president unequivocally condemns such acts of violence and believes that those responsible should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” their draft reply said. “No matter how lofty or sincerely held the goal, those who resort to violence to achieve it are criminals. … Neither the cause that these misguided individuals mistakenly believed they were serving, nor the target of their violence, will in any way be considered to mitigate the seriousness of their offense against our laws.”

. . . .

In the Kentucky school case, Roberts advised Reagan to stay out of a 1985 effort to require teachers to post the national motto – “In God We Trust” – and the preamble to the state constitution in their classrooms. . . . He questioned the constitutionality of the proposal and concluded that “it would be inappropriate” for Reagan to endorse it.

By contrast, David Savage at the L.A. Times looks at Roberts’s record as a deputy Solicitor General and sees . . . a doctrinaire conservative. His article, titled With Starr, Roberts Pushed Reagan Agenda, opens this way:

WASHINGTON — For many years, the solicitor general was known as the “10th justice,” a trusted figure who advised the Supreme Court on the law and whose client was the United States.

But midway through the Reagan administration, the office took on a new role. The solicitor general became not just the government’s chief lawyer before the high court, but the point man for a conservative transformation in the law.

When John G. Roberts Jr., then 34, joined Solicitor General Kenneth W. Starr as his top deputy in fall 1989, they were determined to make the Reagan Revolution a legal reality.

Roberts “was in that position as the principal political deputy to the solicitor general because he was simpatico with the administration,” said Washington lawyer Charles J. Cooper, a longtime friend of the Supreme Court nominee. “He agreed with the thrust of what the administration was doing.”

Together, Starr and Roberts pressed a strongly conservative legal agenda for 3 1/2 years.

They argued for limiting the scope of civil rights laws, ending race-based affirmative action, restoring some prayers to public schools and overruling Roe vs. Wade, the case that established a woman’s right to abortion.

They sought to make it harder for environmentalists to challenge the government in court. They intervened on the side of Operation Rescue to shield abortion protesters from being sued. And they joined Texas state lawyers in arguing that new evidence of a death row inmate’s “actual innocence” did not entitle him to reopen his case in federal court.

It’s doubtful that Roberts turned into a wild-eyed conservative between his time in the White House counsel’s office and his time working with Starr. The stories simply reflect radically different views of Roberts and his thinking.

By the way, Savage’s story appears to be an exercise in linking Roberts to Starr, whom Savage clearly believes is hugely unpopular due to his involvement in President Clinton’s impeachment. If you want a good drinking game, read the article and drink a beer every time Savage uses the words “Roberts” and “Starr” in the same sentence. If you count the headline, you’ll blow through a twelve-pack before you’re done.

Here’s another drinking game: read the L.A. Times every day and drink when you see an example of liberal bias.

Just kidding! I don’t recommend that! You’d be dead of alcohol poisoning within a week.

12 Responses to “The Roberts Rorschach Test”

  1. I like how the test for doctrinaire conservatism is favoring, or being silent on, the topic of pardoning of terrorists. Thats a low bar to achieve.

    actus (cd484e)

  2. You conveniently left out the Kentucky school case.

    Patterico (756436)

  3. “You conveniently left out the Kentucky school case.”

    That’s because i think its relevant to doctrinaire conservatism. Terrorists? I don’t think so.

    actus (cd484e)

  4. Concerning viewpoints and Rorschach:

    “A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest”.* Paul Simon, “The Boxer”

    *(A culturally current rendition of some of Paul’s words to Timothy.)

    MD in Philly (b3202e)

  5. According to actus, pardoning terrorists makes you a doctrinaire conservative. Are you listening, Bill Clinton?

    eddie haskell (8fd1a1)

  6. “According to actus, pardoning terrorists makes you a doctrinaire conservative.”

    Actually, I said it doesn’t.

    actus (cd484e)

  7. Is refusing to coddle terrorists really a sign that someone isn’t a doctrinaire conservative?

    I’d still like to see him address his dismissal of the “so-called right to privacy.”

    Geek, Esq. (5dd2be)

  8. actus – It’s a joke, son, a joke.

    eddie haskell (8fd1a1)

  9. “actus – It’s a joke, son, a joke.”

    Hey, I was laughing at how silly it sounded.

    actus (cd484e)

  10. The problem with Roberts is that everyone sees what they wish. I just hope Coulter isn’t wrong but I have seen nothing that intelligently rebuts her concerns.

    TJ Jacxkson (de4fb8)

  11. Who cares if he’s f*cking conservative or liberal. A pox on both y’all’s houses. All I want is that he: a) is honest (completely bound to upholding the law) and b) intelligent enough to unravel the sophistry of advocates. Like y’all.

    TCO (3c2924)

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