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So What DOES John Roberts Believe?

Reported by Judy - August 19, 2005

George Bush's nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court, John Roberts, once wrote that the personal beliefs of judicial candidates do not matter because "their ideology should have no role in the decisional process," according to documents released by the National Archives.

Roberts' statement, contained in a February 16, 1982, memo he prepared while working as special assistant to the U.S. Attorney General, appears to conflict with what he told Democratic Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois in a private meeting earlier this month. Then, Roberts said that he would recuse himself from a case rather than issue a ruling that would conflict with his Catholic beliefs.

Liberal groups have zeroed in on Roberts' Catholicism because of that church's strong opposition to abortion and the possibility that the church could deny communion to Catholics who vote for or otherwise support government policies permitting abortion.

Roberts was not talking about himself when he wrote the memo released by the National Archives. Roberts was writing to help prepare a speech for the attorney general to give to conservative groups. To do so, he read issues of the National Review, Conservative Digest, and Human Events to see what they had written concerning the Reagan Administration.

One of the complaints conservative groups had with the Reagan Administration was the naming of federal judges, based on their dissatisfaction with Reagan's appointment of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor to the Supreme Court. "The assertion is that appointees are not ideologically committed to the President's policies, again with particular emphasis on the social agenda," wrote Roberts.

Rather than merely insist that Reagan's judicial nominees were in tune with the conservative social agenda, Roberts advised that the attorney general's speech should touch on "our judicial restraint themes (for which this audience should give us some credit).

"It really should not matter what the personal ideology of our appointees may be, so long as they recognize that their ideology should have no role in the decisional process -- i.e., so long as they believe in judicial restraint. This theme has to be glossed somewhat, because of the platform, but we can make the point that much criticism of our appointees has been misdirected.

"Judges do not implement policy in the true conservative view of things, and the hot issues of today will not be those of ten or fifteen years hence, when our judges will be confronted with new social issues. Our appointments process therefore looks beyond a laundry list of personal views to ascertain if the candidate has a proper appreciation of the judicial role."

So what does Roberts believe? Does he believe he should recuse himself from a case because of his ideology, or does he believe that ideology doesn't matter and that judges just follow the law? He deserves to be closely questioned on this flip-flop, as closely as fellow Catholic John Kerry was by opponents last summer on his alleged flip-flops.

The conflicts between the statements Roberts penned as a member of the Reagan Administration and the statements he is making today seem to make it all the more imperative that the Bush Administration release all the documents available on Roberts. After all, he is being nominated for an unelected position which he is eligible to hold for the rest of his life -- which could be as long as thirty years.

The memo was among thousands of pages of material released by the National Archives at the request of senators preparing for hearings on Roberts' nomination. I found it here.

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