I am tired of hearing about what a witty and irascible character John G. Roberts Jr. is, how Roberts, George W. Bush’s nominee for the Supreme Court, is such a sophisticated–if curmudgeonly–cut-up. There have been numerous newspaper stories that depict Roberts in such terms on the basis of the memos he penned when he worked for the Reagan and Bush I administrations. Yesterday the New York Times front-paged a cute account of Roberts’s penchant for proper punctuation. It noted that twenty-three years ago, when he worked for White House counsel Fred Fielding, Roberts was taken with a letter written to the White House because its author, an octogenarian lawyer concerned with an obscure jurisdictional matter, had quoted Plato and Webster and used the word “slumgullion (which means thin stew). This correspondent, Roberts declared, deserved a reply. What a fellow, that Roberts!
I’m more concerned with the content–not style–of his memos and a decades-long trail that shows Roberts has usually favored a narrow reading of rights (such as the “so-called” right to privacy). These memos also suggest he has a tendency to put his intellectual arrogance at work for a political agenda. One memo he co-wrote in 1985 shows that Roberts was not shy about interjecting his own view into policy-making, even if that view had no basis in fact.
Don’t forget about DAVID CORN’s BLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read recent postings on Clinton’s biggest lie, what Bush really said before the war and Gary Hart’s good advice for the Democrats.
In this September 13, 1985, memo, Roberts, who was still in Fielding’s office, wrote about briefing materials that had been prepared for President Ronald Reagan. The material covered several subjects, including the dispute over admitting children with AIDS into public schools. Roberts wrote:
The third bullet item contains the statement that “as far as our best scientists have been able to determine, AIDS virus is not transmitted through casual or routine contact.” I do not think we should have the President taking a position on a disputed scientific issue of this sort. He has no way of knowing the underlying validity of the scientific “conclusion,” which has been attacked by numerous commentators. I would not like to see the President reassuring the public on this point, only to find out he was wrong later. There is much to commend the view that we should assume AIDS can be transmitted through casual or routine contact, as is true with many viruses, until it is demonstrated that it cannot be, and no scientist has said AIDS definitely cannot be so transmitted. I would simply delete the third bullet item.