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Excellent post, Lance.


I read the NYT article that quoted samples of his judicial opinions and I came away embarrassed for the man. utterly commonplace analysis made in a pompous and pretentious "learned, wise judge" style, with pathetic attempts at whimsy thrown in.


I'm admittedly dense when it comes to understanding judicial opinions or whether or not someone is competent to serve as a jurist. I leave that to those smarter and more able than myself.

However I'm not entirely convinced that Roberts is the desperately bad choice that some on the left are concerned about.

Anne Laurie

Once again, you said what I've been thinking, Lance -- only you do it much more coherently. It's a sad day for the nation when the best progressives can hope for in a Supreme Court nominee is a one-dimensional "brilliant hack", instead of a raving theofascist. John Adams would puke at this cardboard cutout's attempt to claim his mantel... he wouldn't be surprised, because ol' John always expected the worst of his fellow men, but he'd still puke. *Sigh.*

Bill Altreuter

I don't think you are being entirely fair here. It is true, to an extent, that you can pick your side when you practice law, but the sides are quite a bit less black and white than you might think. Sometimes the skell didn't commit the particular crime he is accused of (when A. was a prosecutor the line was, "You'll get him next time"). Sometimes the cop is well intentioned, but wrong.

Once you get into the appellate realm it becomes even more rarified. One of the most brilliant lawyers I know is an appellate lawyer in a prosecutor's office-- he cares about the outcome in particular cases, but mostly he cares about crafting arguments that don't expand the prosecution's advantage-- he cares about, you should excuse the expression, "keeping it fair."

I have not had a chance, yet, to really explore Robert's writing. He has, however, been pretty visible as an advocate, and the transcripts I've seen of the way he handles himself at oral argument certainly look like he's All That. A mistake people who are not law trained often make is to confuse legal argument with logical argument (or what they think is logic-- another topic for another day). Law works by analogy, to an extent, but it is defined by principles that have developed over time, or been defined by legislation or precedent. What impresses me when I read Roberts' arguments is the artful way he is able to move through the broken field, and make it look easy.


SAP, Thank you kindly.

Mark, I'll have to read that Times piece.

Bill, this is what I'm asking. It's not that I doubt Roberts is a smart lawyer. It's that I haven't seen any specific examples of his smart lawyering. I look forward to reading any you can dig up.

I also don't think Roberts is a hack. But I have some questions for you I think I'll deal with in a full post.

Mad Kane

Good post, although I'd amend this quote:
"You can choose clients and cases that, if you will, represent your ideology."

If I were re-writing it, it would read: "Some lawyers are in a position to choose clients and cases that, if you will, represent your ideology."

I worked as a lawyer for over a dozen years, and my choices tended to be handle the case I was told to handle or face unemployment.

In fact, I recall an instance when I did refuse to defend a corporation whose employee was accused of sexual harassment because I was virtually certain the accusations were true (based upon my own observations of the accused.) Shortly after that I lost a job I'd had more than four years. Coincidence? I think not.

Now of course lawyers with fancy pedigrees like Roberts are in a far better position than I was to be picky about their cases. Nonetheless, most lawyers don't have nearly the control over their careers that people think they have.

Also, I note your reference to Rumpole. Many years ago I had the privilege of interviewing John Mortimer and profiling him for British Heritage Magazine. You might enjoy the profile, which I've posted at my site:


"Is Roberts the intellectual equivalent of a star college athlete who never lived up to his promise when he made the pros?"

Before he went on the bench, Roberts was the head of the appellate litigation department at Hogan & Hartson, a 1000-lawyer firm with offices in 20 cities around the world. He argued 39 cases to the US Supreme Court -- winning 25 -- and hundreds of cases in appellate courts, and supervised hundreds more.

That, my friend, is not just a pro. That is a star.



You're right, of course. Roberts was a star. Which is why I asked the question. Either I haven't been reading the right articles or the particulars of his career have been pretty widely ignored or downplayed. Either way, my whole post was something of a question. I want the particulars and, as I wrote, with all the cases he's argued in such important venues, as you've pointed out, it should be easy for the media or his supporters to give plenty of particulars.

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