Last week, press aides at the White House made a furious round of phone calls: A number of major newspapers had printed that John Roberts was a member of the secretive far-right Federalist Society. Roberts denied that he was a member, and so the White House demanded a correction. Retractions were printed.
But then the Washington Post released an internal directory proving Roberts served on the steering committee of the Washington Federalist Society chapter.
This is not an isolated episode. The White House is banking on a strategy of hiding Roberts' right-wing views and focusing on his nonconfrontational personality. And so far, most newspapers and networks have bought in, spending a lot more time speculating about how easily Roberts will be confirmed than doing the investigative reporting that the country deserves.
Roberts' record as a right-wing partisan and corporate advocate poses many concerns about how his confirmation would threaten core rights. Here are some direct questions on which we could use some better reporting:
1) How would his years advocating, lobbying and then ruling in favor of corporate power affect his defense of the public interest?
Here's what we know:
- As a corporate lawyer Roberts fought to gut the Americans with Disabilities Act, denying lawful accommodation for workers injured over time as part of their job.
- He helped a major car manufacturer avoid a recall when its seat belts were found to violate federal safety standards.
- He argued for the National Mining Association to overturn a ruling that restricted mountain removal practices devastating to Appalachian communities.
- In his brief tenure as a judge, he argued for a very limited view of congressional authority to regulate corporate excess that could threaten broad swaths of environmental protections, workers' rights, and anti-discrimination laws.
2) How would Roberts affect privacy rights currently protected by the Constitution?
Here's what we know:
- Roberts argued to the Supreme Court that Roe vs. Wade should be "overruled."
- He won a case blocking doctors in many cases from even discussing reproductive options with their patients.
- He has ruled in favor of sweeping powers for the president in this state of perpetual war -- with frightening implications for our civil liberties.
3) How would Roberts' partisan allegiance affect his judgment?
Here's what we know:
- He advised Gov. Jeb Bush during the Florida recount debacle in 2000.
- As a lawyer for the Reagan and first Bush administrations, he advocated for right-wing ideology over free speech, religious liberty and voting rights for minorities.
- Roberts has been a lifelong partisan Republican, a claim the New York Times calls "indisputable," and he has donated thousands of dollars to exclusively Republican candidates.
Roberts' stealth candidacy for the Supreme Court is particularly dangerous because his personal qualities can be used to conceal a very hard line judicial philosophy.
It's also important to remember that facts of Roberts' record that are already clear were more than sufficient to earn him immediate endorsements on the far-right -- even from many of the same people who said Alberto Gonzales was too liberal:
- The violent anti-choice group Operation Rescue said, "We pray that Judge Roberts will be swiftly confirmed."
- James Dobson of Focus on the Family called Roberts "unquestionably qualified."
- Pat Robertson said Roberts was "at the top" of his own list of candidates for the court vacancy.
- Tony Perkins of the ultra-conservative Family Research Council said "The president ... promised to nominate someone along the lines of a Scalia or a Thomas and that is exactly what he has done."
The more facts that come out about Roberts' record, the clearer the danger he poses to our rights and freedoms. It's vital that the news media get back to the hard work of collecting and reporting on the facts of his record.
We are facing the prospect of 30 or 40 years of Roberts on the Supreme Court, and we must apply the highest standard of scrutiny. I hope the Star Tribune will do everything in its power to see that Roberts' record is fully and accurately described to its readers.
Matthew Bribitzer-Stull is an assistant professor of music theory at the University of Minnesota.