John Roberts: Brilliance vs. Experience

My latest "Scoring Scotus" is up at Eric Alterman's Altercation today. (the first one is here.) I won't be cross-posting, so please read both. I still have some reservations about Roberts. Does a brilliant legal mind trump a lack of experience in the trial courts? The Senate Questionnaire submitted by Judge Roberts when he applied for his seat on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals is available here(pdf), courtesy of Courting Influence.

It's somewhat curious to me that so many have touted his qualifications to a position on the nation's highest court when:

  • He has never tried a case before a jury
  • He has never presided over a trial as a judge
  • He has little criminal law experience or expertise
  • He has almost no experience practicing before state courts
  • The sum total of his appellate experience is arguing 65 cases in 17 years.
By all accounts, Judge Roberts has a brilliant legal mind and a terrific temperament. But in addition to trying to ascertain his position on abortion, states' rights, the environment and the Commerce Clause, I hope the Judiciary Committee doesn't overlook the fundamental question of whether his experience makes him qualified for the job.

As for his positions on issues, many of Roberts' memos from the Reagan era are available at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. The Conservative Voice has outlined several, including this one on school busing that provides a clue into his position on the Constitution and civil rights:

Directed to analyze a bill that would have blocked lower federal courts from ordering busing to integrate public schools, Roberts bucked an administration legal heavyweight Theodore B. Olson, an assistant attorney general....Roberts challenged Olson's conclusion that Congress could not outlaw busing for the purpose of reaching a racial mix in schools.

"Olson read the early busing decisions as holding that busing may in some circumstances be constitutionally required, and accordingly concludes that Congress may not flatly prohibit busing," Roberts writes. "I do not agree."

Over at Huffington Post, Eric Boehlert has some thoughts on the Newsweek and Time coverage of Roberts.

Update: The Supreme Court Nomination Blog has more on the busing memo.

< Time to Quit | NARAL Makes FOIA Request for Bush White House Memos on Roberts >
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    Re: John Roberts: Brilliance vs. Experience (none / 0) (#1)
    by pigwiggle on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:01:37 PM EST
    “But in addition to trying to ascertain his position on abortion, states' rights, the environment and the Commerce Clause …” Just exactly what positions would you like him to have on states rights, the commerce clause, and the environment? I can’t see any candidate scoring well with progressives on all three of these issues and maintaining consistency. A weak interstate commerce clause and states rights now seem the fashionable among liberals (for now, and only in the wake of a pounding at the federal polls and uber crappy decisions like Raich v Ashcroft) but weak states and a strong commerce clause have been the teeth in federal environmental law. Not that the battle over supremes has ever been about consistency or a reasoned interpretation of the constitution.

    Re: John Roberts: Brilliance vs. Experience (none / 0) (#2)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:01:38 PM EST
    Progressives are not the problem. Rightwing clones with no real experience in the matters they 'judge' are the problem. Genghiz Bush -- Terrorism threat expert who didn't know the difference between Sunni and Shia. Pat Robertson -- religion expert who blames tsunamis on homosexuality. C. Rice -- national security expert who has never heard of plane attacks on buildings. Rush Limbaugh -- torture expert, with long experience on the radio. Dick Cheney -- No Bid Contract expert. Oh wait, that one he has LOTS of experience at. Has turned the vice presidency into a Shadow Government. Judge Roberts -- law expert, with a Boy Scout card and a bus ticket-stub from mythical Kansas in his back pocket. Roberts is as fit to be on the highest court as Arnold Schwartzenegger was fit to be CA's governor. NO experience is a qualification only for malfeasance.

    Re: John Roberts: Brilliance vs. Experience (none / 0) (#3)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:01:38 PM EST
    "NO experience is a qualification only for malfeasance." While I am no fan of Roberts, the Constitution does not specify that a judge must have experience. In fact it doesn't specify that the nominee must be a judge... or even an attorney. The "no experience" arguement just isn't going to fly, my friend.

    Re: John Roberts: Brilliance vs. Experience (none / 0) (#4)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:01:38 PM EST
    That's what's so lovely about TRADITIONS, bobski. Much of our culture of government is not captured in directly-written laws, and THIS aspect of our government, the SCOTUS, is the very interface with the people's inalienable rights, and the right of government we grant from them. We deserve the MOST experienced of judges -- not the least. Anything else is destabilizing to the Constitution; clearly part of the intent. Selecting a Justice from a person with two years on the federal bench (selected by the same president, and the same Congress, give or take some seats) is clearly non-traditional. He would have the smallest amount of experience of any on the current court, except possibly Thomas -- not exactly a non-controversial pick at the time. Stolen elections to put traitors into power; who wish to elevate a rightwing lawyer to the Supreme Court in the space of three years? The SCOTUS is not a junior league.