Published July 25, 2005
WASHINGTON – Lawmakers voting on the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee John Roberts (search) have few rulings to go by as a measure of the candidate's judicial philosophy, but one place where they may try to hunt for ideas is through Roberts' client and case lists as a private attorney.
His record in practice, as well as private conversation, gave at least one Democrat an idea of the man behind the nomination.
Click in the box to the right to watch a report by FOX News' Major Garrett.
"We talked about a lot of different things in terms of his life experiences and what it would mean as a justice on the Supreme Court," said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and the No. 2 Senate Democrat. On the Senate Judiciary Committee, Durbin opposed Roberts' confirmation to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2003.
Durbin said Friday that he quizzed Roberts about the law's value to the downtrodden.
"Like most of us, he hates bullies and he believes the rule of law gives even the powerless their day in court and their chance. I thought that was a good answer. I like that answer," Durbin said.
A list of Roberts' former clients may not impress those looking to support the downtrodden. For example, Roberts represented FOX television stations as they sought Federal Communications Commission approval to increase ownership of television stations in order to expand its audience reach.
FOX News Channel and FOXNews.com are owned by News Corp.
Did such representation betray a conservative bias by Roberts for big business? Some liberal critics say yes, but the top attorney for Al Gore in the 2000 presidential election recount says no.
"I think it's very difficult to draw any valid inferences. I think it's particularly difficult to draw any inferences from the cases that a private attorney takes on," said attorney David Boies (search).
During the 2000 recount, Roberts advised Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. According to a top Supreme Court analyst, this too is unlikely to be seen as a red flag of conservatism.
"He wasn't Ted Olsen, out there in the front of the pack representing the now president. He did offer some advice to Jeb Bush down in Florida but it was very low key and behind the scenes and I think that characterizes John Roberts' political activities while in private practice," said Edward Lazarus, an attorney for Akin Gump law firm.
Roberts' record could sound alarm bells on the right as well. He represented several Democratic attorneys general in their attempt to force Microsoft to break up on the grounds that it constituted an illegal monopoly. Boies said he doesn't think it signals an anti-trust disposition on the part of Roberts.
"I don't think business ought to be concerned about it one way or the other, but I think, particularly, they shouldn't be concerned about positions he takes when he's advocating for a particular client of his law firm," Boies said.
Roberts also represented the former Democratic governor of Hawaii, Benjamin Cayetano, to defend a law that gave so-called native Hawaiians exclusive right to vote in a statewide election. Roberts lost the case, and some conservatives wondered why he defended what they consider a form of affirmative action.
"It's a mistake for people from the right or the left to say John took a liberal position in this case and took a conservative position in this case, therefore, it tells you how he's going to rule as a judge," said Michael Carvin, an attorney at Jones Day law firm.
The attorneys who spoke with FOX News all say what strikes them most about Judge Roberts is that even though his work as a government attorney was entirely for Republicans, potential Democratic clients didn't conclude he was ideologically off-limits, nor did Roberts turn down clients just because of their political party.