People -- people! -- would you just calm down?
That's the message from the White House today as it tries to reassure the president's Christianist base that John G. Roberts is one of them, his pro bono work on a landmark 1996 gay rights case notwithstanding.
As we noted yesterday, the Los Angeles Times has reported that George W. Bush's Supreme Court nominee provided volunteer legal services to lawyers for gay rights activists while he was in private practice at Hogan & Hartson in the 1990s. The revelation has set off alarm bells on the religious right -- Focus on the Family's James Dobson called it "not welcome news to those of us who advocate for traditional values" -- and a few voices from the fringe have begun to look for signs that Roberts might be gay himself.
Don't worry, the White House says. Bush administration officials are reaching out to the religious right, doing whatever they can to downplay Roberts' involvement in the gay rights case and bolster his conservative credibility. One White House spokeswoman told the Los Angeles Times that Roberts spent less than 10 hours on the gay rights case. Another White House spokeswoman told the New York Times: "As in any other case, it is wrong to equate legal work product with personal opinions."
Which is true -- to a point. Roberts helped out on the gay rights case for free. And as one of his former colleagues from Hogan & Hartson notes, he had every right to opt out if he found the cause unsavory. In an interview with the New York Times, Walter A. Smith, who ran Hogan & Hartson's pro bono program at the time, said: "Every good lawyer knows that if there is something in his client's cause that so personally offends you, morally, religiously, if it so offends you that you think it would undermine your ability to do your duty as a lawyer, then you shouldn't take it on, and John wouldn't have. So at a minimum he had no concerns that would rise to that level."