Thursday, July 21, 2005

Don't Gnash Your Teeth Just Yet

Despite a rash of editorials in the last 24 hours, it seems that no one is quite sure what kind of Supreme Court Justice John Roberts would make. His two-year stint on the Circuit Court of Appeals provides scant case history on which to build a profile of his judicial tendencies.

Roberts has a solidly Republican resume, no doubt about it, but he’s spent the majority of his legal career as an attorney, not a judge. It’s a mistake to assume that Roberts’ work as a lawyer gives a clear indication of how he would interpret the Constitution if appointed to the Supreme Court. Consider his comments on abortion as reported in the NYTs:

Abortion rights groups fault him for arguing, as deputy solicitor general for the first Bush administration in 1990, in favor of a government regulation banning abortion-related counseling in federally financed family planning programs.

He also helped write a brief then that restated the administration's opposition to Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that established the constitutional right to abortion, contending, "We continue to believe that Roe was wrongly decided and should be overruled."

But when pressed in his 2003 confirmation hearings for his own views, he said: "Roe v. Wade is the settled law of the land," and added, "There's nothing in my personal views that would prevent me from fully and faithfully applying that precedent."

Roberts’ judicial stance on the balance of civil liberties and national security, however, has already been tested. He sided with the majority in a ruling allowing the Bush Administration to reconvene military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay. Hopefully Democrats will use Roberts’ confirmation hearing to press this issue before appointing a justice willing to roll over on civil liberties every time the administration says "in the interest of national security."

I’ll see what the next few days/weeks uncover before I make up my mind about this guy.

-- Matthew McCoy