A stealth candidate? No

Having spent much of his career advocating for the right, Roberts is either a true believer or a sellout. We'll give him the benefit of the doubt.

Published July 20, 2005 2:31PM (EDT)

From where we sit, it sure seems hard to make the case that John Roberts is some kind of "stealth" candidate for the Supreme Court. Even putting aside the anti-civil rights, pro-prosecution decisions he has reached in his short tenure as a federal appellate judge, it's not exactly a secret that Roberts has spent much of his adult life in the service of Republican presidents or that he has argued 39 cases before the Supreme Court or that he advanced hard-right, Roe-reversing arguments along the way.

Maybe Roberts was "just a lawyer" advocating zealously for his clients as the lawyers code of ethics requires him to do. Every lawyer we've ever known has had to make, at one point or another, an argument for a client that he might not want to make for himself. But when you make a career out of advancing a particular line of ideological argument -- when you work, again and again and again, for clients who you know are going to want you to make such arguments -- well, it's fair to conclude that you're one of two things: a true believer or a sellout.

We've heard enough about Roberts' honesty and integrity -- and he's such a nice, nice young man! -- that we have a hard time believing that it's the latter. If Roberts didn't agree with what he wrote on behalf of the first Bush administration in 1990 -- that Roe vs. Wade "was wrongly decided and should be overruled" -- why didn't he find someone else to sign off on that brief? Why did he come to the aid of Operation Rescue in another brief he wrote for the Bush administration three years later? Why did he continue to work in the solicitor general's office until 1993? Why did he make a contribution to the Bush-Cheney campaign? And what do you suppose Judge Roberts talks about over the dinner table with his wife, who has had a leadership role in a group called Feminists for Life?

The right knows what it's getting in John Roberts. "The president is a man of his word," Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, told the New York Times Tuesday night. "He promised to nominate someone along the lines of a Scalia or a Thomas, and that is exactly what he has done." It's the rest of us who are supposed to refrain from prejudging, to keep an open mind, to nod approvingly when Roberts says he can't talk about how he'd rule in future cases, and then to pretend that we don't know what we already do.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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