Judge Roberts was a home run for the Bush Administration.
Listening to the hearings last week, I got the immediate impression that he was even more impressive than his press clippings which were impressive indeed. This impression never left me throughout the grueling sessions, all of which I watched with rapt attention.
What was not apparent from the hearings is the generally superior intelligence and training of the Senate Judiciary Commitee staffs and of the various interest group staffs trying to influence the Committee, all of whom are jockeying for the limelight in these rare events. Having worked in Washington, I can vouch for the generally high level of competence of Senate staffs.
Also keep in mind that the seating of a Chief Justice of the United States has happened before only 17 times in the nation's history. Only two of those were the subjects of nationally televised hearings: Burger in 1969, and Rehnquist in 1986 (Fortas was nominated by LBJ in 1968, but was not confirmed). That the Roberts hearing was indeed historic was no exaggeration. Moreover, the Democrats on the Judiciary Committee had much to prove. They were showcasing their jurisprudential philosophy for all to see, and they wanted to demonstrate to everyone their concern for the "little fellow". The amount of preparation for this event cannot be overstated.
Being an old (or "senior" as I prefer to be labelled) lawyer, I have worked closely with big firm lawyers and law students since 1962. Most graduated high in their classes from first class law schools. Many clerked for federal judges. A few clerked for Justices of the Supreme Court. In the law business, these talented, hard working folks were the equivalent of major league professional sports team members. Even so, few were so far ahead of the crowd that one could say with certainty that they were truly superlative so that they really stood out.
But I can say without hesitation that for my money, Judge Roberts was the judicial equivalent of Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, Jim Brown, Bobby Jones, Johnny Unitas, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. All rolled into one. He was that impressive.
Here's the proof: The ideologically liberal Washington Post and Los Angeles Times editorial pages supported this nominee of the often vilified GWB whom neither supports. When did another Republican nominee achieve that feat?
It will be impossible to top Judge Roberts. But there are a number of exceedingly fine judges on the federal bench. I do not know any of them the way I now know Judge Roberts, but here's my advice: Nominate someone who impresses with a career marked with intelligence, integrity, fairness and modesty. Forget anyone who has demonstrated arrogance, certainty, cockiness and ideological narrowness. Make sure in the interview the nominee's personal qualities match the career reputation. Listen to what the nominee's past and present colleagues say about him or her to verify the presence of those good qualities and the absence of the bad ones. Then, hope such a nominee can perform 80% as well in the hearing as Judge Roberts. Lastly keep in mind a double ain't bad.