I can’t quite tell how Washington Post columnist Marc Fisher feels about Judge John G. Roberts–but his column reveals why I like Roberts.
“You can follow the next two months of political thrashing and hullabaloo over the nomination of John Roberts to the Supreme Court, or you can get the whole thing over with by looking at how he handled a single french fry,” writes Fisher.
The French fry was the one being held by a ninth-grader at the Tenleytown Metro station several years ago. It is illegal to eat in a Metro station, and so Ansche Hedgepeth, then 12, was arrested and handcuffed, in accord with District law that dictates that a minor would be taken into custody until claimed by a parent.
A conservative legal organization embraced the cause of Ansche Hedgepeth, and the case eventually ended up before Judge Roberts. Here is how Fisher describes what happened:
“Roberts’s decision last fall shows him to be a witty writer with the confidence to show some heart. He seems pleased that after ’the sort of publicity reserved for adults who make young girls cry,’ Metro changed its policy and no longer arrests young snackers. Roberts recognizes that Ansche wants the charges nullified because no one wants to have to say yes to that standard application question, ’Ever been arrested?’
“But Roberts quickly divorces himself from the human side of the case. He has no sympathy for the notion that Ansche was discriminated against because of her age. Roberts says government has every right to treat children differently, setting age requirements for voting, marriage, driving and drinking. Anyway, he notes, the fact that Metro changed its policy so quickly shows ’that the interests of children are not lightly ignored by the political process.? But Roberts rejects the idea that the court should weigh in on whether the police trampled on Ansche’s freedom.”
Here is Fisher’s summary of what the French fry case says about Roberts:
“As [John] Whitehead [of the conservative legal organization that took up the cause of Ansche Hedgepeth] told me yesterday: ’He’s exactly what I would expect George Bush to choose. He’s very deferential to authority, whether government or business. He’s not a civil libertarian. He is a thinking judge and he sees Ansche?s pain. But he’s like the father that comes to whip you and says, ?This hurts me more than it hurts you.’ He just doesn’t see that the letter of the law only works when it applies to human beings.’
“The french fry case tells the story of someone much like the president — a man who embraces the rhetoric of limited government but defers to and protects government authority. Roberts will disappoint both ends of the spectrum. He’s neither an Antonin Scalia nor a William Douglas, justices whose personal passions bled through their judicial opinions, making them polarizing but creative and influential.
“The reporting on Roberts describes him as a conservative Republican, but a single french fry reveals more about who he is on the bench: a judge who sees it as his task to separate the mess and emotions of daily life from the letter of the law.”
Also on the subject of Judge Roberts, David “Elizabeth Barrett” Brooks counts the ways he loves the nomination in today”s column. Roberts, according to Brooks, hails from a generation of conservatives who came after the era when conservatives in the nation?s capitol had to keep their dukes up.
The column is full of telling gems like this one:
“Roberts has chosen to live in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, not the Virginia ones, where the political climate is 30 degrees to the right. He submitted his wedding notice to the wedding page of The New York Times, which is perceived as alien turf by ideological conservatives.
“Roberts is a conservative practitioner, not a conservative theoretician. He is skilled in the technical aspects of the law, knowledgeable about business complexities (that”s why he was hired to take on Microsoft) and rich in practical knowledge. He is principled and shares the conservative preference for judicial restraint, but doesn”t think at the level of generality of, say, a Scalia. This is the sort of person who rises when a movement is mature and running things.”
Because another movement is either strikingly immature or in an advanced state of advanced senescence, there will probably be ketchup on the hearing room floors.