Supreme Court Pick Roberts Gave Money to Bush’s Campaign

Personal checks and balances

 WASHINGTON, D.C.—In nominating John Roberts, Chief Justice William Rehnquist’s former law clerk, for the Supreme Court on Tuesday, President Bush appointed a right-wing lawyer from a major Washington firm, Hogan & Hartson. Roberts was named a D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals judge by Bush and confirmed by the Senate in 2003 after a delay of two years.

The most interesting thing about Roberts is the list of his campaign contributions while he was in private practice. In 2000, he contributed $1,000 to Bush’s first presidential campaign, and on several occasions put money into the warchest of Illinois Republican senator Peter G. Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald himself was heavily bankrolled by right-to-life groups.

One of the big questions Roberts is likely to face from the Senate is about his position on Roe v. Wade.

As Deputy Solicitor General under Ronald Reagan, Roberts urged the court to overturn a woman’s right to choose. People for the American Way singled out his stance in Rust v. Sullivan, which “dealt with a rule prohibiting federally funded family planning clinics from discussing abortion with patients, not the validity of Roe, which protects a women’s constitutional right to reproductive freedom. Nevertheless, Roberts’ brief proclaimed that ‘[w]e continue to believe that Roe was wrongly decided and should be overruled’ and that the court’s ruling that a woman has a fundamental right to make her own reproductive choices about abortion has `no support in the text, structure or history of the Constitution.' "

While retiring justice Sandra Day O’Connor tends towards the view that abortion was a private matter and seemed to consider Roe as settled law, it’s less clear how Roberts will regard it. Roberts has said, "Roe v. Wade is the settled law of the land. . . . There's nothing in my personal views that would prevent me from fully and faithfully applying that precedent." But as a Supreme Court justice he would be called on to set new precedents, including one that meant the upending of Roe.

Newsmeat.com, which tracks campaign donations, printed federal election records earlier this evening showing that in addition to giving money to Bush in 2000, Roberts in that cycle also gave Indiana Republican Richard Lugar, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, $500.

Newsmeat reports that Roberts also made other contributions through the Hogan Hartson Political Action Committee before joining the bench. The firm continues raising money. In the 2006 cycle, the Hogan Hartson PAC has so far gathered $92,370.

As for Roberts’s judicial record, People for the American Way made these other points:

  • Roberts urged the Supreme Court in Lee v. Weisman to let public schools sponsor prayer at graduations. The court rejected his arguments.
  • In one case before the D.C. Circuit, Roberts was the sole jurist to say that the Endangered Species Act, “at least as applied in a case concerning a California development project, was unconstitutional. All the other judges on the court except one, including judges appointed by President Reagan and the first President Bush, disagreed with Roberts.”
  • Roberts also argued that federal courts cannot hear claims by American troops tortured in Iraq during the Gulf War. The majority sided against him.
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