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The Tally Ho

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Thoughts on Roberts

I've been listening to the confirmation hearings only sporadically, as I zip from school to school and try to find a parking space. The more I hear of him, the more convinced I am that he will be appointed, and the more convinced I am that he will not be on my side regarding social issues. He is studiously avoiding any controversial answer, without giving the feeling that he's dodging a question while pretending to answer it. Roberts continues to argue that the things he wrote as a lawyer are simply that--explicating and defending his clients' stance on an issue, not his own. After hearing so many conservative arguments on behalf of so many clients, it's tough for me to believe that those are not his views. However, we can't filibuster him because of the clients he didn't take on. He even got the committee to chuckle this afternoon when asked to comment on the dreaded Second Nomination (he said it would be inappropriate for him to comment on future nominations, except to say that he approved of some of the Prez's past nominees--meaning himself).

I also can't help but be a little charmed by his writing style. Anne Kornblut's August 29 NYTimes article "In Re Grammar, Roberts's Stance Is Crystal Clear"* states:

...diligence is a trademark of even Judge Roberts's most mundane memorandums, thousands of which have been made public in recent weeks as he prepares for his confirmation hearings. Time and again in his White House work, he singled out improper usage, though often in a wry tone suggesting a scholar's passion for the English language more than an effort to find fault or boast.

In a memorandum to Mr. Fielding, written in 1983 about a draft document on the Comprehensive Crime Control Act, Mr. Roberts declared, "I have no legal objections, but do have two grammatical ones." Calling for parallelism, Roberts requested that a "him" be changed to "them," and "limit" and "make" to "limiting" and "making."

In a memorandum the next year, responding to a letter from David T. Willard, an elementary school superintendent in Illinois who opposed the administration's education policies, Mr. Roberts again concluded that no legal issues needed to be addressed by the White House counsel. But he took the opportunity to note, "The letter is very sarcastic, although Willard inadvertently proves our point about the quality of public education by incorrectly using 'affect' for 'effect.'"

I wouldn't support his nomination on the basis of his writing style, but it does soothe the sting a little to know that at least the man can communicate. He also shouldn't ever be able to argue that his meaning was unclear. Or, perhaps I'm just primed after a few days of obnoxious typos at home and at work.

Speaking with one of my colleagues, I mentioned that I was unable to rant and write screeds about Roberts because there is no smoking gun, because I'm worried about the second nomination, and because frankly, I'm tired. He replied that if we were getting tired and didn't care, it would be extremely difficult to mobilize anyone else. I agree with him, but I think there's some percentage in choosing our battles. After giving us a not-obviously-fundy-wacko candidate, Bush might try to throw a bone to his social conservative base to distract them from the hurricane disaster. That nomination (I'm dreadfully frightened it will be Priscilla Owen) is the one we absolutely must fight.

Or perhaps I'm just distracted by his articulate, proofreading ways. Your thoughts?
*Full text, as always, is available by asking nicely. "Roberts's" and "memorandums" are the author's choices, not mine.

UPDATE: John Tierney wants to ask some different questions of Roberts, such as: "Your passion for correct grammar and syntax is well known, but you have yet to inform the American people of your position on the serial comma. In the phrase 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,' should there be a comma after 'liberty'?" It's a hoot. Go read. Then come back and comment.


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