The Note: An Intellectual Feast

ByABC News
July 21, 2005, 9:04 AM

— -- WASHINGTON, July 20

Judge John Roberts is by all accounts smart, nice, smooth, experienced, genial, a "good man," and -- let's face it -- a pretty darn good looking guy.

(We wrote that sentence to simultaneously give you major insight into the President's mind, and to get a lot of angry left-wing blogs to link to today's Note, to boost our traffic.)

Today, having breakfasted and photo-opped at the White House, Judge Roberts, with former Sen. Fred Thompson in tow, makes the rounds of the Senate, meeting with leaders of the Judiciary Committee, both parties and likely many other Senators. There will be a TBD photo op with Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) in the early afternoon. At 9:00 am ET, Sen. Arlen Specter speaks to reporters about the process.

Sen. Harry Reid gets a courtesy call at 3:15 pm ET, per ABC News' Ed O'Keefe.

ABC News has learned that within 24 hours, Progress for America, the conservative group, plans to start running a flowing, positive biographical ad about Roberts. It'll be a large, nationwide buy. Liberal groups are planning their own buys and have also reserved ad time. Last night, PFA inaugurated the LINK

website and had a mini-flash mob at the Supreme Court building in Washington.

Planned Parenthood held an early morning rally at the Court this morning. NOW has a 10:00 am ET protest outside the Dirksen building on the Hill.

Last night, the RNC held numerous conference calls with key allies and state party executive directors. Today, state parties will hold rallies and other events to promote Roberts.

The RNC and others will send information about Roberts' record to select constituencies; Note how quickly Roberts' wife's membership in Feminists for Life made the rounds of the blogosphere. (And don't get us started on the the-Roberts-family-are-the-conservative-John-and-Elizabeth-Edwards thing . . . )

Today, expect Sens. Reid, Leahy and Kennedy to give statements from the Senate floor. Reid plans a presser in the afternoon.

A senior leadership aide said that Democrats "will begin to focus on a handful of things from his record that raise questions about his suitability for a lifetime appointment."

Democrats are also holding conference calls with womens' groups and Hispanic leaders today. There'll be plenty of blog outreach too.

If this process has all the hallmarks of a national political campaign, judging on technical competence, one side looks like the disciplined, well-organized Bush-Cheney campaign of 2004, and one looks more like, say, the Kerry campaign. At least for now.

Perhaps not coincidentally, the one that looks like the Bush-Cheney campaign is . . . uhm . . . the Bush-Roberts campaign. If someone wants to argue that this was not THE best handled and well-researched process ever for a SCOTUS nominee, please tell us what you would suggest tops it.

We say that because the Democratic caucus's strategy of relative reticence to say anything declarative, in a news cycle when groups are reacting fast and furiously, sent out the impression that they did not know what to think and were confused about what to say.

The factor we think most likely to ensure Judge Roberts' confirmation: that the Washington establishment, and the media establishment, know him and like him. Do not underestimate how hard it will be for Democrats to tar a potential nominee who has given working Washington journalists his cell phone number and who is generally seen as a mensch. And that Seth Waxman support (He is no Zell Miller...) is just going to be the tip of the iceberg of Democrats singing in the "Amen, Roberts" choir.

Here is the giddy (but not unwarranted) view from a very senior Senate Republican leadership aide who has been involved in the judicial confirmation process:

"Our side is fired up and inspired; theirs is dispirited and disconsolate."

As the days have turned into weeks, and months, the wisdom of the Leader in bringing the Senate to the precipice to force a change in behavior on the filibuster looks more and more apparent. Guess he's not such a fumblefingers, after all. Clearly, the 2d-term team at the White House has more than found its sea legs -- they bent over backwards to work with the Senate here, and the leg team is about to deliver success on the highway bill and possibly the energy bill, something that eluded their predecessors—perhaps Novak has to recast his nasty thesis."

"If you take the new pop Democrat theory, they just got framed with a meta narrative of up-from-bootstraps success to the highest court in the land. And what is their frame? Complaining about . . . paperwork? And this is a momentum-builder for our side that reminds all Republicans of why they ran and won in the first place: to come to Washington and make a difference that will live on after they are gone."

Democratic communications whiz Jim Manley responds: "The Republicans would have wanted nothing more than to have us come out swinging." He says that Democrats stuck to their message and are moving forward with plans to begin to raise specific issues.

(Note well this forward-looking nugget from the Washington Post: "Later . . . (Democrats) plan to press for access to records relating to Roberts's service in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations and, if denied, will turn up the heat on him and the administration.")

All that said, the initial reaction from movement conservatives was more relieved than euphoric. More "Thank goodness -- not a Souter" than "Wowie Wow Wow Wow!" (Although Bill Kristol, Dr. Dobson, and a few others publicly did do the "wowie wow" thing.)

Late last night and this morning, as Roberts' name and record was wrung through various tests and filters, we perceived the beginnings of some doubts. Roberts is a Washington insider . . . . with a thin paper trail . . . ambiguous public statements on abortion . . . and a propensity to follow both precedent and the facts of the case (rather an avowed originalist/textualist bent).

The word we hear most often now is "hopeful." And we'd point to today's noon ET joint telephonic news conference with Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council. Those folks will be a little more cautious in their reaction than one might expect.

Let's be clear. Movement conservatives will fight like hell for Roberts, and many prominent, true-blue conservatives love the guy. (Brilliant White House planning has ensured that.). But they will also be more likely to want to hear his answers to specific questions on specific issues. We predict that many won't follow the White House/RNC/Senate leadership assertion that he ought not to discuss policy.

For example: conservative Steve Prost comments on "Can anyone show me a quote of something he's written that make clear he is a 'solid originalist/textualist' as the lines are drawn in the current jurisprudential debate… people like Edith Jones, Garza, Bork, Rehnquist, Thomas, Scalia, we can point to a plethora of statements. His 'Roe was wrongly decided' he signed in the middle of a plethora of attorneys who signed a government brief, and look what he said about doing that to show it definitely did not reflect his personal belief in his 2003 confirmation hearing when questioned by Hatch.'"

(Note: the guy likes the word "plethora," it seems.)

Conservatives seem to be saying, "Roberts won't be another Souter because George W. Bush says he won't be.". And they know the son works hard not to repeat his father's political errors.

Still, does anyone think that Roberts will be anything less than a world-class witness? Or that ANY Repubican Senator (without some blockbuster personal revelation) would dream of voting against him?

On the left, if the initial reactions are indicative, there is a substantive split in the Democratic world between the Nan Arons, Ralph Neas and NARALs of the world (legitimate, respected political actors, let us be clear) who have fundraising and base rousing to do, the Schumers of the world (who will likely play the role of a voice for those groups in the Senate, but will likely do so in a more senatorial manner than those groups would like), and the Liebermans and Nelsons of the world.

We have not heard from a single, smart Democrat who seriously doubts that Roberts will be confirmed, though many predict a come-hell-or-high-water fight.

(Forgotten -- mostly -- already: diversity, smiversity.)

Major non-Roberts events today:

At 10:00 am ET, President Bush speaks on the Patriot Act in an address to the Port of Baltimore. Matt Cooper and Normal Pearlstine attend a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on media shield legislation at 9:30 am ET.

At 10:55 am ET, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) hosts a pen and pad briefing focusing on the week's agenda.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee holds a 10:00 am ET hearing on accelerating economic progress in Iraq.

Alan Greenspan delivers his semiannual report on monetary policy to the Senate Financial Services Committee at 10:00 am ET.

At 10:00 am ET, the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Global Climate Change and Impacts holds a hearing on U.S. climate policy and a $5 billion 2006 budget request for climate-related science and technology.

RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman travels to Michigan for several grassroots events, including an informal discussion at Mott Community College and a dinner in Saginaw.

Vice President Cheney presents the Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Awards at 10:30 am ET alongside Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez.

Roberts: lede-alls:
The New York Daily News' DeFrank and Bazinet write, "Bush strategists believe Roberts' intellectual firepower and personal charm will trump liberal criticism of his strict-constructionist credentials." LINK

More DeFrank/Bazinet: "A senior Bush strategist added: 'He's not a laydown, but it's a battle we can win.'"

The Washington Times' Joseph Curl: "President Bush last night nominated staunch conservative John G. Roberts Jr. to the Supreme Court, saying the Harvard-educated lawyer and appeals court judge will 'strictly apply the Constitution and laws -- not legislate from the bench.'" LINK

Bloomberg's James Rowley: "In John G. Roberts Jr., U.S. President George W. Bush found a Supreme Court nominee who pleases conservative Republicans yet will probably avoid a divisive fight with Senate Democrats."

The New York Times' Todd Purdum: "While Judge Roberts has impeccable Republican credentials and a record of service in the Reagan and first Bush administrations dating to 1981, his paper trail of opinions is comparatively thin, and he is not seen as a 'movement conservative.'" LINK

USA Today subhead (one of the few things not deriving from the Bartlett rollout plan): "Roberts Argued Against 'Roe': Democrats Pledge Review."

The Los Angeles Times' Vieth, Chen, and Curtius:

"If confirmed, Roberts appears likely to expand the court's conservative wing, anchored by Rehnquist. Although Roberts' judicial track record is limited, he is regarded as more conservative than O'Connor." LINK

Roberts: nut graphs suggesting confirmation prospects:
Mary Curtius and Janet Hook of the Los Angeles Times call the initial Democratic response "strikingly muted." LINK

"Democratic reaction suggests that Judge Roberts may fall below the threshold of 'extraordinary circumstances,' the term used by the Gang of 14 to describe the circumstances under which a future filibuster would be acceptable," writes Charles Hurt of the Washington Times.

The Wall Street Journal's front-page lede, by Bravin and Cummings: "President Bush nominated federal appeals court judge John G. Roberts Jr. to the Supreme Court, choosing a candidate with a long-enough history in conservative legal circles to delight Republicans and an affable demeanor and short paper trail that could make him hard for liberals to attack.

The New York Post's Deb Orin: "Last night, it was clear Democrats were struggling and divided over the Roberts nomination while Republicans were happy and united — an ideal outcome for the White House." LINK

From the Washington Post's Peter Baker and Jim VandeHei: "As a successor to O'Connor, a centrist-conservative who cast the swing vote for years, Roberts is expected to move the court further to the right, but legal experts do not consider him among the most ideological of the candidates Bush considered. Often described as steady and even-tempered, Roberts has accumulated a slim record as a judge but has a longer paper trail as a lawyer for the government and in private practice. That paper trail will surely become fodder for debate in the coming weeks." LINK

The New York Times' Nagourney: "As often is the case with Mr. Bush, the decision appears almost obvious in retrospect: a choice that is at least good enough for conservatives, who hailed the nomination with a barrage of favorable reaction that went out even before Mr. Bush appeared in the East Room on Tuesday evening, yet someone who is genial and enigmatic enough to confound Democrats as they head into what they had long expected to be a difficult battle." LINK

"By suggesting that Mr. Bush was giving serious consideration to a woman or minority even if he did not choose one in the end, the White House may have minimized any political repercussions Mr. Bush may have suffered by choosing a man to replace the court's first woman."

"'They've artfully threaded the needle,' said a senior Democratic leadership aide, who declined to be identified, explaining the challenge that the party now faces."

The New York Times' Stolberg and Hulse: "Republicans said that Judge Roberts's earlier confirmation vote would make it difficult for Democrats to use the filibuster to block him from ascending to the Supreme Court, but Mr. Schumer would not rule out the tactic." LINK

From the Washington Post's Allen and Babington: "Republican senators planned to coordinate their message with a conference call after Bush's speech. Republican aides said it will take the Judiciary Committee three to six weeks to prepare for the confirmation hearing, which they expect to take four or five days. The preparation time includes an FBI background check that will be conducted under unprecedented security, according to aides." LINK

More: "The ability of Democrats to challenge Roberts will be constrained by several complications, including some of their own making. Within hours of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's retirement announcement, Democrats demanded that Bush consult with them extensively, even as they broadly predicted he would not. Bush undermined the strategy when he and his top aides placed lengthy phone calls to more than half of the Senate's 44 Democrats, and when Bush invited top Democrats to the White House for a meeting."

"While some Democrats complained that the calls had little substance, the sheer volume of them made it difficult for them to claim the president was vetting nominees without their input. Republican senators repeatedly called the level of consultation 'unprecedented.'"

"Several Democratic aides said their party may have squandered Bush's overture by suggesting a surfeit of possible nominees and responding individually to calls from the West Wing, instead of making one focused argument. The result, these aides said, was that Bush was free to disregard the advice without having to answer for any particular rejection."

Roberts: political analysis:
Below the headline, "A Fight, Maybe, but Not a Battle," Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times writes the Roberts pick reaffirms Bush's "bold-stroke" style, but reduces "his exposure to political risk." LINK

Also: "The selection could offer Bush an opportunity to maximize his chance of a relatively smooth confirmation while minimizing the danger of either conservative disaffection or scorched-earth Democratic opposition."

Don't miss the kicker quote: "'If they try and oppose him, they are going to look angry and intemperate and obstructionist,' predicted one GOP strategist who requested anonymity when discussing White House thinking. 'This is not a fight that we fear.'"

Chicago Tribune's Mark Silva Notes the President's defiance of expectations (yet again) as well as the boldness/risk in picking a white male.

". . .political fights like this one sometimes can be won based on first impressions, making the White House's choice of a later-than-usual, prime-time appearance likely to ensure Roberts a highly positive introduction to the American people." LINK

Nagourney: "Mr. Bush is also someone who relishes confrontation and political combat, perhaps never more than when he finds himself under attack, as he certainly has during these rough three months in Washington. In this case, though, Mr. Bush may have found a way to accomplish one of the overarching goals of this presidency -moving the court to the right - without a reprise of the kind of polarizing battles that have sometimes marked the Bush presidency."

"Given that this was the first but probably not the last Supreme Court vacancy he will be asked to fill, Bush sought a less confrontational approach with the Senate than he has adopted with his lower court nominations," write the Washington Post's Balz and Lane. LINK

More Balz and Lane: "Senate Democrats reacted much more cautiously, saying only that there were many questions they wanted Roberts to answer during his confirmation hearings. Privately they were being urged to keep their powder dry until a fuller vetting of Roberts's record both as a judge and a lawyer is completed later this summer. But there was nothing approaching the denunciation that greeted the nomination of Robert Bork in 1987, when within minutes of his announcement he was attacked on the Senate floor by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) as someone who would turn back the clock on women and minorities."

"That may have been as much tactical as substantive, given the fact that Senate Democratic leaders had urged their colleagues not to overreact initially no matter who Bush nominated….Among Democrats, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (Conn.) may well be the most crucial voice in the Gang of 14. Republicans were pointing to a statement he made last week that appeared to say that he saw no justification for a filibuster of Roberts, but an aide said tonight he was misinterpreted and would wait for a fuller examination of Roberts's record before making any judgment about his suitability to serve on the high court."

The Wall Street Journal's McKinnon and Mullins suggest that Roberts serves to stymie those Democrats invested in the Gang of 14.

John Podhoretz in the New York Post declares game-set-match. LINK

Roberts: key players react:
The Manchester Union Leader's Mark Hayward offers a glimpse through the New Hampshire lens -- as the state's parental notification law currently lingers on the High Court docket. LINK

From ABC News Ed O'Keefe: "Gut, first blush reaction at the Senate has been generally positive. Most importantly, the Democrats do not yet appear poised for a major fight (i.e., this nominee is not so immediately unpalatable as to cause an uproar but they will most certainly investigate and push him hard). Republicans, and particularly, conservative Republicans are VERY PLEASED. Santorum, Brownback and Sessions all lauded Roberts sans talking points and confirmed that the President had made good on his campaign promise to pick someone in the mold of Scalia or Thomas."

Jill Zuckman Notes the cautious reaction from Democratic Senators. LINK

From Sen. Ben Nelson: ""With the nomination of Judge John Roberts, the President has initiated the confirmation process. I am looking forward to being constructive as the Senate considers and deliberates on the qualifications of Judge Roberts."

'"Now remember, the nomination will be referred to the Judiciary Committee, not the 'Gang of Fourteen.' The Judiciary Committee should take as much time as it needs to conduct its hearings and consider the nomination. The best case scenario for Judge Roberts, the President and the country is for Judge Roberts to emerge from these proceedings with broad appeal. There's always a danger in being defined as an activist judge with an agenda and a willingness to legislate from the bench. The confirmation process will shed light on Judge Roberts' and what kind of Justice he might become.'"

From Sen. Mary Landrieu: ""With the President's nomination this evening of Judge John Roberts, the Senate begins its responsibility to review his record and determine whether he is fit to serve as an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court."

"As I wrote the President last week, I hoped for a nominee who could unite the nation and muster the enthusiastic consensus support that Justice O'Connor and six other current Justices earned. As the Senate examines Judge Roberts' credentials and hears his testimony, we will begin to learn whether this support is attainable."

". . .jitters turned to jubilation Tuesday night as leading conservatives praised appellate court Judge John G. Roberts Jr. as an ideological soul mate," write Peter Wallsten and Ed Chen of the Los Angeles Times. LINK

David Kirkpatrick of the New York Times gives ink to Aron, Pearl, Weyrich, Sekulow, Perkins, Neas, and Parker. LINK

Tom Edsall and Michael Fletcher of the Washington Post detail the interest group campaign ahead. LINK

From Manuel Miranda, Third Branch Conference: "Today the President has named a solid replacement for Sandra Day O'Connor of unimpeachable credentials and temperament. In naming John Roberts, the President hit it out of the ball park. John Roberts is a lawyer's lawyer who will interpret the Constitution and the law without regard to personal or religious views, --- as a judge and not a politician. Any Schumeresque assault on John Roberts will be ill-advised as a political matter."

Roberts editorials:
The New York Times is restrained. LINK

The Los Angeles Times editorial board calls Roberts a "shrewd choice." LINK

"Roberts may be more of a chamber of commerce-type than a social conservative with a burning desire to become a judicial activist intent on saving America from itself. He may not be in the mold of Justices Antonin Scalia or Clarence Thomas — though we may come to eat those words; check back in a few years."

The Washington Post editorial board believes that "President Bush picked a man of substance and seriousness." LINK

USA Today is surprising skeptical about Roberts' mainstream values. LINK

The New York Post is unsurprisingly supportive and says Roberts did pro bono work for welfare recipients. LINK

The Chicago Tribune offers its endorsement of Roberts and looks ahead to the next opening on the Court. LINK

"Some Americans will be disappointed that Bush didn't choose a woman or a Hispanic in the interest of diversity. That's a reasonable sentiment and one that will probably play a bigger role if another vacancy opens up. No appointment, unfortunately, can meet every need. But the Supreme Court always needs outstanding legal minds. In Roberts, it would get exactly that."

The New York Daily news editorial board reserves final judgment, but calls the pick a "politically canny" choice. LINK

Roberts: bio:
"'Nobody knows' how Roberts would vote on abortion, said his friend Bradford Berenson, who interviewed court picks as a Bush White House lawyer," reports the New York Daily News' James Gordon Meek in his look at how the issue of abortion will likely play a leading role in the confirmation hearings. LINK

Neil Lewis of the New York Times, gushing and glowing: LINK

R. Jeffrey Smith and Jo Becker, contradiction-mining. LINK

Former colleague and current Pepperdine University professor, Douglas Kmiec, explains Roberts' power of persuasion to the Los Angeles Times. LINK

"'John Roberts' style is to come to your office and say, 'I understand you disagree with me; please tell me why,' and then listen in rapt attention to your position — not necessarily agreeing but letting you know he has fully considered every aspect of your argument. That type of personality on the Supreme Court is rare…. He can bring votes over when they are close.'"

Ain't he cute? LINK

Roberts: tick tocks:
New York Timeswoman Elisabeth Bumiller's summary of the day doesn't even hint at the prospect at the White House engaged in clever disinformation to keep reporters and the groups guessing. LINK

Susan Milligan of the Boston Globe says last week at a reunion event of lawyers who clerked for Rehnquist the buzz was all about Roberts. LINK

Roberts: legal analysis:
Linda Greenhouse in the New York Times tips Roberts towards O'Connor rather than Scalia. LINK

Her colleague, Adam Liptak, on the SG days. LINK

Charlie Savage of the Boston Globe looks at Roberts's paper trail to uncover the nominee's legal views and clicks on Roberts Federalist Society association. LINK

David Abel of the Boston Globe speaks with former Harvard classmates who says Roberts was hardworking and sharp, but "wasn't into partying, drinking, or drugs. I'll be very surprised if you can find people who have stories of him wearing a lampshade on his head," said classmate Charles Davidow. Colleagues also say they can't recall any political convictions of Roberts, who was the editor of the Harvard Law Review LINK

Roberts: most apolcalyptic press releases:
Not to pick on the left, but:

From NARAL: "In a devastating move, George W. Bush has nominated John Roberts to replace Justice O'Connor's swing vote on the U.S. Supreme Court. By nominating John Roberts, George Bush has issued a slap in the face to every American who values personal privacy and a woman's right to choose."

From ""In nominating John Roberts, the President has turned to a right wing corporate lawyer and ideologue for the nation's highest court. Roberts has been associated with some of the most fringe and extreme views of the Republican Party for years."

Other stories you'll want to read today:
The dissident unions' threatened boycott of Chicago, as chronicled by Steven Greenhouse in the New York Times. LINK

Chuck in coach; HRC in first on the USAirways Shuttle, per Page Six. LINK

Sens. Kyl (R-AZ) and Cornyn (R-TX) enter the immigration debate with their just-introduced bill. LINK

"The Justice Department plans to announce its opposition today to a proposed federal shield law that would protect journalists from having to reveal their sources," writes Johanna Neuman of the Los Angeles Times. LINK

Former John Edwards chief of staff/senior Clinton administration NSC official Miles Lackey sends word that he and Mara Rudman, an NSC's chief of staff under Clinton, have formed "Quorum Strategies, LLC, an international strategic consulting firm based in Washington, DC." LINK

From the press release: "With experience in the worlds of government, business, non-profits and politics, our team has managed large and sensitive international organizations; designed strategies for shifting public opinion on key foreign and domestic policy matters; and advised civic and business leaders on how most effectively to shape the political environment to accomplish their goals. Quorum Strategies brings together the people, skills and resources to identify issues, find solutions, and achieve our clients' objectives."