So, who is John Roberts anyway...is he a Goody Two Shoes, as Dahlia Lithwick suggests; or is he the Manchurian Candidate, as posited by Emily Bazelon?
And that's why John Roberts doesn't alarm me much. The same conservatism that leads him to decry judicial overreaching in the privacy and civil rights contexts is part and parcel of a larger conservatism that distrusts reckless grandiosity. The same quality, in short, that kept Roberts rom sneaking off into the woods to smoke may be the same quality that keeps him from torching Roe v. Wade. The Clarence Thomases of this world—men unafraid of tearing down centuries of constitutional scaffolding in order to impose their own theories of constitutional construction—are far scarier to me. Those are the guys who probably did barf off the clock towers in college; guys with the hubris and drive to change the world without going through the confirmation process first. Scalia doesn't care what anyone thinks of him, and Thomas is happiest when he's provoking outrage. Roberts cares a lot about looking temperate, and that isn't a bad thing in a judge.
There's ammunition for principled opposition to be mined here. But the key attribute Roberts lacks from the point of view of the legal liberals, at least on the record, is an overarching, burn-the-house-down judicial philosophy. As a result, proponents of judicial restraint—an approach to the law that's become as fashionable among liberals as conservatives—are eager to embrace him as one of their own. Leftish advocates of restraint celebrate justices who don't reach out beyond the facts of a case to decide more than they need to and who respect existing Supreme Court precedent. They wrinkle their noses at justices who overtly seek to impose a rightward agenda (Antonin Scalia) and are willing to jettison past decisions to do it (Clarence Thomas). Roberts has never declared himself one of the bad guys, Sunstein pointed out hopefully in a recent piece in the New Republic. Instead he has styled himself as deliberate, lawyerly, process-oriented. His opinions on the D.C. Circuit court of appeals "avoid broad pronouncements," Sunstein wrote. "They do not try to reorient the law."
There's also in interesting piece on Judge Roberts and his relationship/comparisons with esteemed Judge Friendly - Friendly Fire.
More on Roberts and the nomination:
Associate Justice John Roberts
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For the record...