Everyone’s a-twitter about Jeffrey Toobin’s profile of Chief Justice John Roberts in this week’s New Yorker. And with good reason. We’re not sure whether the title of the profile, “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” is meant to describe Roberts or Toobin.
We’re sure you’re familiar with Toobin, the ubiquitous legal analyst whose resume includes gigs with CNN and ABC, as well a Harvard Law School degree, a stint as an assistant U.S. attorney, time on the Oliver North trial, a Second Circuit clerkship, and many books, including The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court. And he’s not yet 50 years old (though he’ll be 49 on Thursday, according to Wikipedia).
But back to Roberts. He gets a fairly harsh appraisal in the profile, coming across as a political stooge:
After four years on the Court, however, Roberts’s record is not that of a humble moderate but, rather, that of a doctrinaire conservative. The kind of humility that Roberts favors reflects a view that the Court should almost always defer to the existing power relationships in society. In every major case since he became the nation’s seventeenth Chief Justice, Roberts has sided with the prosecution over the defendant, the state over the condemned, the executive branch over the legislative, and the corporate defendant over the individual plaintiff. Even more than Scalia, who has embodied judicial conservatism during a generation of service on the Supreme Court, Roberts has served the interests, and reflected the values, of the contemporary Republican Party.
Toobin does not appear to be a fan of the Roberts Court. More on the elephant in the courtroom, after the jump.
Roberts has such a nice smile that his conservative fangs were ignored during the SCOTUS nomination process, says Toobin. Roberts’s charming manner concealed the rigidity of “a stealth hard-liner,” who’s now pulling the Court to the far right:
Along with Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito, Jr., and (usually) Anthony Kennedy, the majority of the Court is moving right as the rest of the country — or, at least, the rest of the federal government — is moving left. At this low moment in the historical reputation of George W. Bush, his nominee for Chief Justice stands in signal contrast to what appears today to be a failed and fading tenure as President. Roberts’s service on the Court, which is, of course, likely to continue for decades, offers an enduring and faithful reflection of the Bush Presidency.
Roberts — who graduated from HLS in 1979, just seven years before Toobin — is a youthful 55, so this Bush legacy is likely to outlast No Child Left Behind.
Toobin also seems annoyed that the “twangy” Roberts is supplanting the “effervescent” Nino as the most outspoken resident at One First Street:
When Antonin Scalia joined the Court, in 1986, he brought a new gladiatorial spirit to oral arguments, and in subsequent years the Justices have often used their questions as much for campaign speeches as for requests for information. Roberts, though, has taken this practice to an extreme, and now, even more than the effervescent Scalia, it is the Chief Justice, with his slight Midwestern twang, who dominates the Court’s public sessions.
In reading the piece, it looks like Justice Roberts refused to talk to Toobin. Not usually a good idea for a profile subject. That makes a journalist feel less badly about taking off the kid gloves and getting fierce.
We wonder if the end of the piece sent chills up Roberts’s spine:
[T]here is no disputing that the President and the Chief Justice are adversaries in a contest for control of the Court, and that both men come to that battle well armed. Obama has at most one more chance to take the oath of office, and Roberts will probably have a half-dozen more opportunities to get it right. But each time Roberts walks down the steps of the Capitol to administer the oath, he may well be surrounded — and eventually outvoted — by Supreme Court colleagues appointed by Barack Obama.
We can’t help but feel a little empathy for this imagined ideologically-lonely future for poor JGR. But we’re not sure if it’s an accurate journalistic prediction or wishful thinking on Toobin’s part.
No More Mr. Nice Guy [New Yorker]