Tony Gosgnach
The Interim

U.S. conservatives can’t seem to decide whether Supreme Court nominee John Roberts is with them, against them or somewhere in between. But one thing’s for sure – if his position can be assessed by the enemies he has, they have nothing to worry about.

Leftist, liberal and pro-abortion groups jumped on Roberts as soon as his nomination as an associate justice on the U.S.’s highest court was announced by President George W. Bush in July. People for the American Way called Roberts’ legal record “troubling,” while characterized him as a “right-wing lawyer and corporate lobbyist.” The website labelled him an “uncompassionate conservative” and charged that, “A Roberts court would threaten the rights of all but the rich and powerful.”

NARAL Pro-Choice America spent half a million dollars to air a vicious anti-Roberts ad that began with bloody images from the bombing of an abortuary in 1998. It went on to suggest that in 1991, he signed a brief that was supportive of “violent fringe groups and a convicted clinic bomber.” The pro-abortion group later had to pull the ad because of fierce criticisms from various parts of American society.

NARAL Pro-Choice America was back two weeks later, however, with a milder ad emphasizing the “threats that (Roberts) poses to our freedom.” The Human Rights Campaign, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the National Centre for Lesbian Rights and Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays also announced their opposition to Roberts’s nomination.

These developments may have implied that Roberts would be a shoo-in for approval among U.S. conservatives; however, although most were sternly in favour of him, some expressed reservations and at least one rather firmly condemned him.

The influential Family Research Council, through its president Tony Perkins, welcomed Roberts’s nomination and described him as “an exceptionally well-qualified and impartial nominee for the Supreme Court.” The equally influential Focus on the Family heartily endorsed him as well, with Focus on the Family Action chair Dr. James Dobson calling Roberts “an unquestionably qualified attorney and judge with impressive experience in government and the private sector.”

Writing in National Review magazine, Dennis Coyle, an associate professor of politics at the Catholic University of America and a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said Roberts simply “looks like the most qualified candidate imaginable.”

Other conservative and legal minds giving their thumbs-up included: Sean Rushton, executive director of the Committee for Justice; Northwestern University law professor Stephen Calabresi; Pepperdine University law professor Douglas Kmiec; Gary Marx, head of the Judicial Conformation Network; Jordan Lorence, a senior attorney with the Alliance Defence Fund; and the Republican senator for Oklahoma, Tom Coburn.

Conservative pundit Ann Coulter was more tempered in her assessment, noting that what is known about Roberts is “a blank slate. Tabula rasa. Big zippo. Nada.” She cautioned that just because liberals are against him doesn’t mean such a “stealth” nominee will necessarily turn out to be a pleasant surprise for conservatives.

“It means absolutely nothing that NARAL and Planned Parenthood attack him,” Coulter observed wryly. “The only way a Supreme Court nominee could win the approval of NARAL and Planned Parenthood would be to actually perform an abortion during his confirmation hearing, live, on camera, and preferably a partial-birth one.”

Eyebrows were raised in early August when it emerged that Roberts had donated his time to work behind the scenes for gay rights activists to help them win a decision hailed as the single, most important positive ruling for the gay rights movement – Romer vs. Evans in the early 1990s. The lead lawyer for the gay activists called Roberts’s work “absolutely crucial.” A week later, LifeSite News said “conservative fears about Roberts are growing” as it reported that he had lent a hand in 1999 preparing representatives for the soft-porn Playboy empire in arguments before the Supreme Court.

However, others in the conservative movement pointed out that such manifestations were simply examples of his commitment to non-ideological jurisprudence.

Perhaps the most stinging indictment of Roberts from the conservative side came from Joseph Farah, founder and CEO of the world’s leading conservative news website, Conservatives “just can’t believe George W. Bush would betray them so boldly. But he has,” Farah wrote in his Sept. 13 “Between the Lines” column. He suggested Roberts “will make Ruth Bader Ginsberg look like a moderate … Roberts is a Washington establishment operative who has been fooling conservatives for much of his life … He was a plotter, a co-conspirator, a devious manipulator, a spinner.”

As confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee got underway in Washington in September, the rhetoric continued to fly, although the consensus seemed to be – even among “mainstream” media sources – that Roberts was handling the oftentimes-intense grilling by his questioners with aplomb. Whether he will ultimately justify the faith in him shown by many conservatives, only time can truly tell.