Prior to John Roberts’ Senate confirmation hearings, Community Rights Counsel (CRC) joined a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee expressing important concerns about Judge Roberts’ record on environmental issues. Our concerns were not fully allayed by his testimony and written responses. But based on a thorough review of his qualifications, his record as a lawyer and a judge, and his Senate testimony, we have found nothing disqualifying in his record and have concluded therefore that Judge Roberts warrants confirmation as Chief Justice of the United States.
When John Roberts was initially nominated to replace Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, CRC published an opinion piece in the Washington Post that expressed cautious optimism over the Roberts nomination. We said then that while the “nomination of John Roberts raises important questions about the future of the Supreme Court … [we] would rather have Roberts and genuine questions than another one of the judges on President Bush’s short list and a lot of bad answers.” The confirmation process has not fundamentally changed our view of Judge Roberts.
Documents released in the confirmation process indicate that Judge Roberts was an enthusiastic conservative as a young lawyer in the Reagan Administration who aggressively advanced Administration positions. On the other hand, Judge Roberts’ practice as a Supreme Court advocate at Hogan and Hartson between 1993 and 2003, and his brief tenure as a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, are fairly described as without an ideological edge. Given his record over the past 13 years, we are willing to take Judge Roberts at his word when he says he will not pursue an ideological agenda if confirmed to the Supreme Court. We also take comfort in Judge Roberts’ commitment to precedent and judicial restraint.
With two vacancies on the Supreme Court – and recent Supreme Court rulings that threaten fundamental environmental safeguards – the stakes for the environment in the composition of the Supreme Court are very high right now. Community Rights Counsel stands ready to fiercely oppose any nominee to the Supreme Court that has a record suggesting hostility to environmental protections. In the case of Judge Roberts, we do not believe such a record exists, and therefore, we do not oppose his confirmation.