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Roberts' Rocky Road to Federal Bench

John G. Roberts Jr. (search) was one of President Bush's noncontroversial picks for the appeals court. Getting there, however, was a long time coming.

First nominated for the bench in 1992 by President George H.W. Bush (search), Roberts was never given a hearing nor confirmed by the Democratic-controlled Senate. He was nominated by the current President Bush in 2001, but the nomination again died. Bush renominated him in January 2003 and the Senate confirmed his nomination May 8, 2003, by voice vote.

During the Clinton administration years, Roberts became a highly sought after private lawyer in Supreme Court cases, representing clients like the National Collegiate Athletic Association (search) in a discrimination case, and carmaker Toyota in winning limits on disabled workers' claims.

Unlike some possible Supreme Court nominees, Roberts, 50, is considered low-key and has generally avoided weighing in on disputed social issues.

Abortion rights groups, however, have maintained that he tried during his days as a lawyer in the first Bush administration to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that legalized abortion.

Roberts did co-write a brief that stated, "We continue to believe that Roe was wrongly decided and should be overruled." Pressed during his 2003 confirmation hearing for his own views on the matter, Roberts said: "Roe v. Wade is the settled law of the land. ... There's nothing in my personal views that would prevent me from fully and faithfully applying that precedent."

Roberts' nomination to the appellate bench attracted support from both ends of the ideological spectrum. Some 146 members of the D.C. Bar signed a letter urging his confirmation, including Clinton administration officials.

The letter said: "He is one of the very best and most highly respected appellate lawyers in the nation, with a deserved reputation as a brilliant writer and oral advocate. He is also a wonderful professional colleague both because of his enormous skills and because of his unquestioned integrity and fair-mindedness.

Roberts was associate counsel to President Reagan from 1982-86 and then served in the first Bush administration arguing cases before the Supreme Court from 1989-93. The Harvard graduate — undergraduate and law school — clerked for William H. Rehnquist when he was an associate justice on the high court.

At his appellate confirmation hearing in 2003, Roberts sought to reassure senators that he would be guided by legal precedents, not his personal views on issues, saying, "My own personal views would not be relevant."

He pointed to his record in litigating cases.

"My practice has not been ideological in any sense," he said. "My clients and their positions are liberal and conservative across the board. I have argued in favor of environmental restrictions and against takings claims. I've argued in favor of affirmative action. I've argued in favor of prisoners' rights under the Eighth Amendment. I've argued in favor of antitrust enforcement.

"At the same time, I've represented defendants charged with antitrust cases. I've argued cases against affirmative action. And what I've been able to do in each of those cases is set aside any personal views and discharge the professional obligation of an advocate." Roberts said.

Roberts also has made the case that some problems simply should be left to the states. In a 1999 radio interview, he said, "We have gotten to the point these days where we think the only way we can show we're serious about a problem is if we pass a federal law, whether it is the Violence Against Women Act or anything else. The fact of the matter is conditions are different in different states, and state laws can be more relevant."

In one case he handled before the D.C. Court of Appeals, he represented a group of welfare recipients whose benefits had been terminated. He successfully argued that each was entitled to an individual hearing before benefits were cut off. He argued the case on a pro bono basis.