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The Honorable Judge Nice

Image Control by Mr. Fish

Bookmakers would have made a killing in Washington on Tuesday, as hacks and flacks, pundits and bloggers furiously placed bets on who would replace Justice O’Connor on the Supreme Court. By evening, the speculative free-for-all was over and the straight poop came directly from Bush’s mouth: John Roberts, 50-year-old judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, was the nominee. Now arises a new question: Who exactly is John Roberts? His short stint in the appellate courts — Roberts was confirmed in 2003 — leaves little record to assess beyond that he’s conservative (maybe very conservative), and apparently quite a nice guy with some Democratic allies. All of which makes his nomination a clever move that may defuse some of the Democrats’ momentum on this issue — and allow Bush to slip in a potentially Court-changing justice. “Well, I should say to begin with, that I like and respect John Roberts enormously . . . He is thoughtful. He’s certainly brilliant. I enjoyed the experience of arguing against him, and as a matter of fact though I didn’t enjoy losing, I enjoyed losing to him in the abortion-counseling decision 5-4.

—Laurence Tribe, Gore’s attorney in Bush vs. Gore in 2000, on Charlie Rose, July 19, 2005

“John Roberts is one of these extraordinary men [with] an incredible degree of brilliance. In a room of smart people . . . he’s the smartest guy in the room, but you don’t feel like it. I’ve known him for years, and he doesn’t — he’s not the kind of person that lords it over you. When you combine that kind of just niceness with that kind of intellectual rigor, you’re talking about a potential for enormous influence.”

—Nina Totenberg, Nightline, July 19

“With Roberts, Bush is obviously playing it safe — maybe because he’s tanking in the polls, or suffering from the Rove scandal and bad Iraq news, or just because he doesn’t want another battle to distract from his faltering domestic agenda. Roberts is the least likely of the rumored short-listed candidates to provoke outrage. He is a well-known Washington insider, an institutional player, a highly placed member of the legal establishment. He enjoys the kind of respect Kenneth Starr had before embarking on his anti-Clinton crusade, as a safe, sound man, not an ideological zealot like Edith Jones or wacko like Janice Rogers Brown. These qualities are going to make Roberts’ confirmation easier. They are also what make him dangerous.”

—Robert Gordon, professor of law and legal history at Yale, Talking Points Memo Supreme Court Watch blog, July 19