Roberts Documents Provide Sweeping View of Career

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Supreme Court nominee John Roberts completes a questionnaire from the Senate Judiciary Committee. In it, Roberts says if confirmed he'd respect settled law. The document will be reviewed by the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will be considering Roberts' nomination in September.


Supreme Court nominee John Roberts has completed a questionnaire for the Senate Judiciary Committee. The 100-page document outlines the nominee's education, career and finances. NPR's Ari Shapiro reports.

ARI SHAPIRO reporting:

From his birth in Buffalo, New York, to the conversations that John Roberts had with White House officials just days before he was nominated to the Supreme Court, this document gives a broad sweep of Roberts' life, all in question-and-answer format.

Question: Has anyone involved in the process of selecting you as a judicial nominee discussed with you any specific case, legal issue or question?

Answer: No.

Throughout the Q&A, Roberts' language is measured. There is none of the fire or wit that have come across in some of the documents he wrote while at the Justice Department. This questionnaire reads more like a job application. When asked his views on judicial activism, Roberts replies, `Judges must be constantly aware that their role, while important, is limited. They do not have a commission to solve society's problems as they see them, but simply to decide cases before them according to the rule of law.' Roberts goes on to say, `Precedent plays an important role in promoting the stability of the legal system,' and he says `A judge must have the humility to be fully open to the views of his fellow judges on the court.'

Roberts' career, as described in this document, is one of a man who spent much of his professional life in government, working for Republican administrations. He describes going to Tallahassee in November of 2000. He says Republican lawyers asked him, quote, "to assist those working on behalf of George W. Bush on various aspects of the recount litigation." Later, Roberts says he returned to Florida to meet with Governor Jeb Bush to discuss some of the legal issues in the recount battle.

The question of whether Roberts belonged to the conservative Federalist Society has been hotly debated in the press. Roberts cites press reports that indicate he had some involvement, but he claims not to recall that involvement. He says, however, that he has participated in society events.

Outside of his time in government, Roberts' private-sector work does not read like that of an ideologue. As a partner at a major DC law firm, Roberts took on a range of clients from very different backgrounds. In one case, for example, he represented without pay a group of people trying to hold on to their public assistance. One of his co-counsels in that case was the ACLU.

Even Roberts' financial holdings seem benign in this questionnaire. He does not report any travel paid for by outside groups, for example. His only liability is the mortgage on his house.

The one judicial complaint against Roberts is almost comical. It was filed earlier this summer when Roberts was hearing cases in the DC Circuit Court of Appeals. It arose after Roberts denied a man's claim that he was under imminent danger of serious physical injury. The man didn't like the way his case was decided. He accused Judge Roberts of practicing medicine without a license. The complaint was dismissed.

All of this information now becomes fodder for confirmation hearings. The Senate Judiciary Committee says hearings will begin the day after Labor Day. If they go smoothly and Roberts is confirmed, he could be sworn in by the time the high court convenes again in early October.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington.


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