How Bush picked his justice

You don't even want to know.


Tim Grieve
July 21, 2005 3:58PM (UTC)

If you've got an overwhelming desire to feel uncomfortable about your president this morning, there would be worse ways to scratch that itch than by reading Elisabeth Bumiller's piece in today's New York Times on the process that led George W. Bush to pick John Roberts as his first Supreme Court nominee.

We're not sure what we'd want a president to discuss with somebody he's thinking about putting on the highest court in the land, but it's a safe bet that the potential jurist's exercise habits wouldn't be on our top 10 list of questions. And yet, there's the president of the United States, asking federal appellate judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III about how often he works out. "Well, I told him I ran three and a half miles a day," Judge Wilkinson told Bumiller Wednesday. "And I said my doctor recommends a lot of cross-training, but I said I didn't want to do the elliptical and the bike and the treadmill." Bumiller quotes Wilkinson as saying that Bush "took umbrage at that," and that the president told him -- one of five nominees Bush is said to have interviewed for the job -- that he should do the cross-training his doctor suggested.

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OK, so it was a moment of idle chatter, right? Well, no, Bumiller writes. "Judge Wilkinson's conversation with the president about exercise and other personal matters in an interview for a job on the highest court in the land was typical of how Mr. Bush went about picking his eventual nominee, Judge John G. Roberts, White House officials and Republicans said."

White House aides said that Bush was quite taken with Roberts' Midwestern "regular guy" demeanor, Bumiller said, and the president was all but starry-eyed when he heard about Roberts' credentials. Dan Bartlett said Bush was impressed that Roberts had attended both Harvard College and Harvard Law School and that he has argued 39 cases before the Supreme Court. We'd note that Larry Tribe attended both Harvard College and Harvard Law School -- and later returned to teach there! -- and that he has also argued dozens of cases before the Supreme Court. Apparently, those credentials aren't quite as impressive when they belong to a lawyer who hasn't argued for the reversal of Roe vs. Wade.

Could it be that Bush had other concerns in mind when he interviewed Roberts, Wilkerson and other potential nominees? You might get that feeling as you get to the end of Bumiller's report. As Bush was calling a few senators with word of his choice Tuesday night, Karl Rove was on the phone with some of the president's key constituents: C. Boyden Gray, former White House counsel and current Fox News contributor; Leonard Leo, the executive vice president of the Federalist Society and the head of Catholic outreach for the Republican Party; Jay Sekulow, the chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, an evangelical group; and former Attorney General Edwin Meese III of the Heritage Foundation.

We're pretty sure that they all cared deeply about John Roberts' academic credentials -- and about his exercise habits, too.


Tim Grieve

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

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