Big questions for the justice-to-be

  • The Washington Examiner
  • |
  • July 22, 2005

by Karen Feld


Ed Lazarus, author of a new book, “Closed Chambers: The Rise, Fall, and Future of the Modern Supreme Court,” talked to me about Supreme Court nominee John Roberts.

“He’s young, telegenic, articulate, well-credentialed and well-liked, but we don’t know yet what the record is going to be with respect to Roberts on the abortion clinic protest case, flag burning, prayer in school and overturning of Roe v. Wade,” said Lazarus, who was born and raised in D.C., clerked for Justice Harry Blackmun and now is a part-time partner at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld in its Los Angeles office. “His appellate judicial record is very thin. He should be asked all the big questions and evaluated on the answers: What is his view of constitutional interpretation? Who are his judicial icons? How would he approach the trade-off between constitutional privacy and national security?”

7 22 05
John Roberts

Slight move to center with greater experience?

Assuming Judge Roberts is confirmed, Lazarus thinks that he will prove to be conservative early on, just as was Justice Anthony Kennedy. “Kennedy is now the center seat,” says the author. “There’s a question mark as to how Roberts will evolve over time.”

Bittersweet for Rehnquist protege

The author points out that Roberts, if confirmed, will be the first justice to serve in that position while his former boss, Chief Justice William Rehnquist, is a justice. “That bittersweet experience will be magnified inside the court,” Lazarus said. “He has a strong personal bond with the chief, and the chief is fighting for his life. The impact of a sick justice is powerful. I think it’ll have a real impact on Roberts. He’s coming to the court at a sad moment – in some ways that’s an opportunity for him to show his colleagues what a decent person he is.”

Geographically challenged CNN

In the rush to cover the surprise nomination of Judge John Roberts Tuesday evening, CNN cameras honed in on a courthouse – but it was the wrong courthouse. On Wednesday, the cable network again showed footage of the wrong courthouse. They showed the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which handles patent reviews and federal claims, instead of the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, where journalist Judith Miller was recently ordered jailed for contempt of court. That’s the court over which Judge Roberts presides. That courthouse is located a couple miles away from the D.C. Court of Appeals at 333 Constitution Ave. NW, across from the National Gallery of Art. The Federal Circuit Court, located at 717 Madison Place NW, is the red building across from Lafayette Park.

Judge Wapner better known than Rehnquist

Not only are the court locations not known, individual justices are not well-known either, according to a new American Enterprise Institute public opinion study. In one poll, only 9 percent of Americans surveyed were able to identify William Rehnquist as chief justice of the United States after he had been on the Supreme Court for 17 years. More people were able to identify retired Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Joseph Wapner of TV’s “The People’s Court.”

Congressional comments from secure F street location

Illinois Republicans gathered at Oceanaire downtown for an event for Frank Watson, minority leader of the Illinois State Senate, before the president announced his nominee to the Supreme Court. “Female, black, Hispanic – I don’t care if it’s a Martian as long as he’s a strict constructionist,” exclaimed Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill.

One longtime congressman commented that the only time he’d seen the Speaker of the House with as much security as Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., was when Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned in 1973 and Speaker Carl Albert was next in line to be president. Coincidentally, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., was spotted at the bar at the same restaurant that same evening.

Just another game

Sighting: Sitting in the first row behind the Nationals’ dugout at RFK Stadium Wednesday evening were political consultant James Carville and his wife, Mary Matalin, with Tim Russert of NBC’s “Meet the Press,” eating peanuts, drinking beer, watching for foul balls and cheering on D.C.’s newest stars. After the Nats’ down-to-the-last-out loss to the Colorado Rockies, Carville’s curt assessment of President Bush’s Supreme Court nomination was, “It’s going to pass. It’s Washington.

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