Friday, September 23, 2005


The "Brilliant" mind of John Roberts at work

The word "brilliant" has come up numerous times in the whole Roberts confirmation process to describe the nominee, far more than it did with, say, Anthony Kennedy. How brilliant is he?

Here are three versions of testimony from day two of his confirmation hearings. Senator Charles Schumer, D-NY, asked this question:

SCHUMER: ...[Do]you regret the tone of some of these [Reagan administration] memos? Do you regret some of the inartful phrases you used in those memos, a reference to “illegal amigos” in one memo? ... Could you think that some people might have found it offensive?
What did Roberts say in response? Was it

a) ROBERTS: Not at all Senator. It's not like I said "spic" or something. I think our Mexican-- I mean Hispanic amigos would appreciate the humor. They're a fun loving people.

b) ROBERTS: You're quite right Senator. That language is offensive and I would never use it today. I'd like to think I'm wiser than the 28 year old I was when I wrote that regrettable phrase -- I'm certainly older.

c) ROBERTS: Senator, in that particular memo, for example, it was a play on the standard practice of many politicians, including President Reagan. When he was talking to a Hispanic audience he would throw in some language in Spanish.

Again, the memos were from me to Fred Fielding. I think Mr. Fielding always found the tone...

.... It was meant to convey the notion, again, as I described, that when politicians speak to a particular audience in that language, is that offensive to the audience? It was meant to convey that. It was an issue concerning a particular radio interview.

You know, the tone was, I think, generally appropriate for a memo from me to Mr. Fielding, and I know that he never suggested that it was anything other than appropriate.
Isn't (b), or some version of it, not only the smart answer but the totally obviously smart answer? It makes Roberts look judicious and it's unassailable.

His actual answer (c) is a dumb choice. It leaves an impression that the man has a lingering disrespect for racial and ethnic minorities. It makes him look stubbornly unwilling to admit mistakes, to the point of arrogance. Not a signal that he will be the "humble" chief justice he claims.

I don't purport to have a great legal mind, or indeed any legal mind at all, but isn't it often considered wise not to expend one's credibility as a witness by trying to defend the totally indefensible?

Though given Feingold, Kohl, and Leahy's rationalizations of their votes, I guess all Roberts really needed to do was to avoid the temptation to bite the head off a bat during the hearings.
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