Published January 13, 2015
John Roberts (search) pledged Tuesday to respect established rulings if confirmed to the Supreme Court, saying judges must recognize that their role is "not to solve society's problems."
With few appeals court rulings by Roberts to go on, lawmakers and special interest groups have been poring over the nominee's writings to try to determine his legal philosophy. Roberts provided some new insight in answers to a lengthy questionnaire from the Senate Judiciary Committee (search), which will begin considering Roberts' nomination on Sept. 6.
Still, the 84-page disclosure, which was released late Tuesday during Congress' monthlong recess, contained no smoking gun. Some interest groups were immediately critical, calling Roberts' answers unresponsive and "lawyerly."
Roberts provided responses to an array of questions involving work history, political ties and views on judicial activism. His thoughts on activism are considered critical to gauging his position on overturning the 1973 landmark Roe v. Wade (search) decision legalizing abortion.
"Precedent plays an important role in promoting the stability of the legal system," Roberts wrote. "A sound judicial philosophy should reflect recognition of the fact that the judge operates within a system of rules developed over the years by other judges equally striving to live up to the judicial oath."
At the same time, Roberts said that "judges must be constantly aware that their role, while important, is limited."
"They do not have a commission to solve society's problems, as they see them, but simply to decide cases before them according to the rule of law," he wrote.
Nancy Keenan, president of abortion rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America, which opposes Roberts' nomination, accused Roberts of running a deceptive "political campaign to create the appearance of open-mindedness."
"John Roberts' lawyerly answers fall short of the candor the American people expect," Keenan said. "Even anti-choice Justices Antonin Scalia and William Rehnquist respect precedent, but that hasn't stopped them from explicitly saying they want to overturn Roe v. Wade."
Bush has nominated Roberts to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who often provided the decisive swing vote in decisions in which the court's liberal and conservatives wings were split.
Roberts worked in the administrations of President Reagan and the first President Bush before entering private practice. He has been an appellate judge since 2003.
In response to a question about his memberships, Roberts said he does not recall ever being a member of the conservative Federalist Society, although he participated in events including a 1993 panel and gave a luncheon speech to the legal group in 2003.
"According to recent press reports, in 1997 I was listed in brochures as a member of the Washington Lawyers Steering Committee," Roberts wrote. "I have no recollection of serving on that committee, or being a member of the society."
Detailing his political ties, Roberts said he spent about a week assisting Florida Gov. Jeb Bush during the disputed presidential election count in 2000.
He said he went to Florida at the request of GOP lawyers, assisting an attorney who was preparing arguments for the Florida Supreme Court and at one point meeting the governor, President Bush's younger brother, to discuss the legal issues "in a general way."
"My recollection is that I stayed less than one week," Roberts wrote.
Other political affiliations Roberts listed were the executive committee of the D.C. Lawyers for Bush-Quayle in 1988, Lawyers for Bush-Cheney and the Republican National Lawyers Association.
Responding to a question about his experience in the judicial selection process, Roberts wrote he was interviewed by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales as early as April 1, a time when Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist was at the center of retirement speculation.
Besides Bush, he reported having discussions with Vice President Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, White House Counsel Harriet Miers and Chief of Staff Andrew Card. To the question whether if any of them asked about his specific legal views or positions on cases, Roberts gave a one-word reply: "No."
The responses also show Roberts is worth about $6 million, with sizable stock investments, a golf club membership and home in Chevy Chase, Md., worth $1.3 million. His portfolio includes $291,200 in XM Satellite Radio, $264,000 in Dell computers and $106,553 in Texas Instruments.
Earlier Tuesday, the National Archives released additional documents from the time Roberts served as a young government lawyer in the 1980s. They showed that he helped coordinate efforts aimed at rebutting criticism that the Reagan administration Justice Department was hostile to civil rights.
Roberts was just 26 when he began serving as special assistant to Attorney General William French Smith in 1981. The 350 pages, posted on the Archives' Web site, reveal a confident attorney who sought to assuage critics and promote the department's conservative agenda.
In a Sept. 15, 1982, memo, Roberts offered guidance to the attorney general in advance of a meeting with Clarence Pendleton, Reagan's newly appointed chairman of the Civil Rights Commission.
Roberts cautioned that Pendleton could bring up controversial social topics including the Justice Department's support for a restricted view of Title IX sex discrimination lawsuits as well as a push by some leaders to hold a national summit on civil rights. Roberts then advised Smith to sidestep possible controversies.