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July 26, 2005

A gentleman's "C"

Having been away when John Roberts was nominated to be a justice of the Supreme Court, I haven't read much of what others have written. But when I checked some of the usual suspects, I didn't detect any dissatisfaction. Personally, I give the nomination a gentleman's "C."

Roberts is an extremely smart, very successful lawyer, who served in an important position in the Solicitor General's office. But he seems far too much a part of the legal establishment, a fact that gives me little confidence. It's one thing to "grow" in office, as Justice Kennedy has done, seemingly eager for praise from the Washington Post's editorial board. It's another entirely to start with the Post's seal of approval.

It's not that I suspect that Roberts will be another Souter, who similarly lacked much of a track record, or even another O'Connor. It's that I see this as a missed opportunity to appoint someone who could be another Scalia or Thomas. Roberts will be easier to confirm, but the President has rarely acted to avoid a fight. In fact, he often seems to relish one. He could have had a good fight, a winnable one, with a nominee whose judicial approach was clearer and consistent with the President's own preference for Scalia and Thomas.

UPDATE (7/27): Fred Barnes writes about the vetting process in the Weekly Standard. I suspect Barnes left his skepticism at home that day, or else White House security refused to allow it in. Apparently, the President, Karl Rove, and staff were adamant about preventing another Souter and closely questioned potential nominees about their views to make sure they would still be conservative in 25 years. As if that can be determined through questioning. (If the 25-year mark of stability is what you want, the best candidate is Judge Luttig of the Fourth Circuit, who's been a judge for about 14 years and is still only 50 or 51 years old.) I think the President has excellent instincts on a lot of important matters. I only hope this is one of them.

UPDATE (7/27): WuzzaDem previews the Judiciary Committee hearings. Doesn't deal with my reservations, but it's a lot funnier than the real hearings will be. (Via Baseball Crank)

UPDATE (7/27): Terry Eastland seems cautiously optimistic about Roberts. Ann Coulter, on the other hand, shares my misgivings, only louder. Why, she asks, with the Senate in Republican control, must Bush send up a "stealth" nominee? She begins her most recent column with quotations praising Roberts -- only they turn out to be praise of Souter following his nomination.