Around Politics: Supreme Court nominee Judge John G. Roberts and confirmation

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The United States Senate and the entire political world is girding for another judicial confirmation battle. Following some of the principles of Sun Tzu and his “Art of War,” the Bush administration has put forth a Supreme Court nominee who may be able to win confirmation without the proverbial “battle.”

U.S. Appellate Court Judge John G. Roberts has been unveiled as the individual nominated to succeed retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor on the nation’s highest court. In 2003, Judge Roberts was confirmed to his current position by “unanimous consent” of the U.S. Senate, meaning that no one opposed his confirmation on the floor of the Senate; and prior to that, the Judiciary Committee approved his nomination by a 16-3 margin.

Those who want to oppose Judge Roberts’ confirmation are complaining that his record on issues is “thin.” He does not have the paper trail of a legal scholar such as Judge Robert Bork, who became the modern-day precedent for the interjection of politics into the confirmation process. Judge Bork was, and is, a renowned scholar and respected jurist and thus had published many articles and participated in many decisions that provided political fodder for his opposition.

I am sure that the founding fathers of our nation had no idea that the confirmation process would turn into such a political spectacle. After all, in their day, the Senate was an appointed body, not popularly elected, and only one-third of the senators would be exposed every two years to replacement.

Back here in Illinois during the last battle over a Supreme Court nominee, former Democrat Senator Alan Dixon became politically vulnerable because of his vote in favor of confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. That vulnerability produced a three-way split in the Democrat primary race. This and other factors provided for the victory of Carol Moseley-Braun over Dixon.

The New York Times ran a story this past week about Judge Roberts’ wife and her involvement in a pro-life organization titled “Feminists for Life.” Jane Sullivan-Roberts has volunteered her legal services to this organization for a decade. I am sure that this, too, will become an issue in some parts; but even Teddy Kennedy, according to the Times, says Mrs. Roberts’ work “ought to be out of bounds.”

Judge Roberts’ “thin” record is accompanied by a large bipartisan list of respected lawyers and legislators who proclaim their support and confidence in the nominee. He was even referred to as “a brilliant lawyer” on National Public Radio.

Initially, some of the potential opposition senators came out suggesting that Judge Roberts needs to be in the mold of Justice O’Connor. In other words, why didn’t President Bush nominate a woman who would be an independent swing vote? Justice O’Connor—let it be known that Judge Roberts is fine with her. Still, the opposition will rummage through the trashcans trying to find something that they can use to defeat this nominee. Rather than getting into his biography, I refer you to information on this nominee at

With the speculation over the health of Chief Justice William Rehnquist, Supreme Court politics will be at the forefront of political discourse for the next year or so. At 50 years of age, Judge Roberts will be there for decades. It will be interesting to see how far the opposition will go to deny George W. Bush his opportunity to place his stamp on the highest court in the land. Thus far, Democrats in the Senate seem muted about their opinions of this “stealth” nominee, but expect a donnybrook for the next one.

Jim Thacker is a political consultant and columnist.

From the Aug. 3-9, 2005, issue

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