A fair question, indeed. Rather than read the one-sided political blogs, the ranting coming from the party organizations, the love and hate from the too-well-monied interest groups on right and left, why not read a little about Judge Roberts from noted lawyers, legal scholars, and from Judge Roberts himself.
Here is Judge Roberts' bio from The Supreme Court Nomination Blog.
Links from this bio include those to two of Judge Roberts' most controversial opinions on the DC Circuit, his official federal judicial biography, and some profiles by noted legal scholars. I would call your attention to Roberts' decision in Hedgepeth v. Washington MTA. Even if you're not keen to read legal opinions, you should at least read the first three or four paragraphs of Judge Roberts' opinion. The key sentence is from the first paragraph:
"The question before us,
however, is not whether these policies were a bad idea, but
whether they violated the Fourth and Fifth Amendments to
My two cents after the jump.
I won't bother to ask for the two cents. I very much like Judge Roberts' tone in the above cited opinion, and not being very smart in legal matters I put a lot of weight on tone. Roberts' accepts that the case is an unfortunate one. He also notes that emotional considerations must be ignored in the matter. This is sometimes a hard thing to do; you want to reverse the decision and give this little girl some sort of recompense for her treatment. But you can't, not if you take the law seriously. Roberts, it would seem, takes the law seriously.
Judge Roberts is known as a quiet but thoughtful judge. This seems to be a good thing for the Supreme Court. He has a relatively short judicial career, meaning he has little paper trail. Justices Souter and Thomas, among others, came to the court after similarly short appellate careers. Thomas, of course, is a conservative darling; Souter is a conservative whipping boy. Roberts certainly comes across as more conservative than Souter, but his record is thin. Whether this is good or bad remains open for debate.
Speaking as a white male who wouldn't turn down a federal appellate appointment should one ever be offered in some far-distant and probably mythical future, I am a bit disappointed that Bush nominated a white male. He really wants to appoint Alberto Gonzales to the Court. Does he expect to replace Chief Justice Rehnquist with Gonzales at some point? Possibly; it would be political dynamite, and if Roberts is very conservative (like Rehnquist) and Gonzales is moderate (like Justice O'Connor), it would actually keep the court's balance at status quo ante. But his conservative base wouldn't be happy.
And there is something to be said for replacing the first woman ever to serve on the Court with another woman. I think it's a fair argument that O'Connor's seat does not need to be a "female seat," because that cheapens the value of the nomination. But my gut feeling is that a woman would have been very appropriate here.
What I guess is the most surprising thing here is that Bush does not appear to have played politics. There are significant political considerations to naming a woman or a hispanic. The majority of Bush's decisions play to the political dynamic of groups--remember, this is the team that hired a staffer to target "middle class Catholics from Ohio" during the 2004 campaign. Group politics is every bit as important to these guys as they are to the Democrats. I fully expected Bush to play group politics--that is to say, I believed Bush's list of potential nominees would be limited to women and minorities.
That it wasn't is a very pleasant surprise. It says to me that Bush might have given some thought to the idea that the Court should not be a body brought down to the level of street politics; this would be a change from his obvious previous inclination that the courts were a fine place to fight partisan battles (witness the filibuster situation). It would unquestionably be a good change.
It also says to me that Bush very likely considered many people, minorities and women included, and gave everyone the same hearing without giving undue influence to group affiliation. This is very positive. And it says Bush must thus think Roberts is the best guy around to fill this job--at least, the best guy around who both gets along with Bush and shares at least a fair majority of his views. This is the most we can ask of any president in making Court nominations.
As a rule I think when Bush makes a decision it's usually wrong, and when he says something publicly it's usually a politically calculated lie. Roberts' nomination seems to go against both of those.
The question, then, is, whither Alberto Gonzales?
A difficult question. Bush said he wanted to name the first Hispanic Justice. Reagan said during his campaign he would name the first female Justice; he did so at his first opportunity with Justice O'Connor. That Bush did not follow suit is plain evidence that he does not think O'Connor's will be the only retirement during his term. Rehnquist, of course, now seems unlikely to step down unless he becomes physically incapacitated. Conventional wisdom among Court watchers is that Justice Stevens will leave the court only after his breath takes leave of him.
If the conventional wisdom is correct, then, Bush is betting on mortality. That's an interesting position for him to be in.