July 20, 2005

Two Observations About The Roberts Discussions

First, I find it very interesting that many pundits and cable news contributors, when discussing the potential judicial ideology of Judge Roberts, mention his friendliness and approachability. It implies that in order to be as extreme as Scalia or Thomas would involve being irascible, cranky, mean or reclusive. Dick Cheney as a Representative (for WY) was widely considered a friend to most other Congressmen, even though he regularly found himself in single-digits minority on votes like school lunches and gun control. I've heard rumors about big-time moderates that cast them as selfish, egocentric assholes. Certainly everyone should realize that personalities and politics often don't overlap.

Second, in yet another flaw of using Communications, English and Journalism majors to write articles about law, politics or economics, the media coverage seems to be tilted toward giving one- or two-sentence descriptions of his former cases without going into the law. They describe the situation and the ruling and whether he was joined by his colleagues, but give little about the larger legal issues. While it might seem topical to a communications expert to describe that such and such issue or regulation met with such and such a fate, it offers little insight into Roberts' judicial philosophy. So he struck down X or upheld Y or dissented on Z - I have little idea why he made these rulings, and more to the point even less idea what he'd do to set new precedent. But they have to have something to talk about and all they have is old rulings.

Journalists and AP staff writers know story structure and the five Ws but they're not experts in other subjects; it's crazy to assume that if you teach somebody how to write they'll be able to make a coherent story out of it. It would be better to find people with a little background in the subject they're covering and then make sure they know how to write. Writers with little subject matter expertise have trouble so they tend to be over-reliant on press releases.

My guess is that Roberts is something like Rehnquist, that he'll be pretty decent on federalism but somewhat skeptical of the 9th Amendment. My hope is that he'll rule against Roe and Casey but it's hard to say with this information. What I can say is that he seems honest in his decisions and willing to rule against his personal feelings in ordser to follow the law. He's obviously qualified from his experience and education.

But trying to learn about his ideology from one-liner descriptions of old cases or divining his judicial philosophy from his friendliness is a case of journalists trying to find evidence where little is present.


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