Wednesday, August 3, 2005

Judge John G. Roberts Jr. condemned judicial activism in a questionnaire released yesterday by the Senate Judiciary Committee and recommended that judges carry out their duties with a degree of “personal modesty and humility.”

“First, judges must be constantly aware that their role, while important, is limited,” he wrote in response to a question about judicial activism. “They do not have a commission to solve society’s problems, as they see them, but simply to decide cases before them according to the rule of law.”

“Courts should not intrude into areas of policy making reserved by the Constitution to the political branches,” he wrote.

The 67-page report released yesterday includes a 1-page answer that appears to sum up President Bush’s stated reason for nominating Judge Roberts: that he would not be a judicial activist.

Conservatives blame judicial activism for state and federal court rulings that have made abortion a constitutional right, restricted prayer and religion in schools and sanctioned homosexual “marriages.”

Judge Roberts also offered a glimpse into his view of overturning precedent — a matter of concern for advocates on both sides of the abortion debate.

He wrote that precedent — such as the 1973 Supreme Court Roe v. Wade ruling on abortion — is “important,” but he did not flatly rule out overturning such settled cases.

“A judge needs the humility to appreciate that he is not necessarily the first person to confront a particular issue,” he wrote. “Precedent plays an important role in promoting the stability of the legal system, and a sound judicial philosophy should reflect recognition of the fact that the judge operates within a system of rules developed over the years by other judges equally striving to live up to the judicial oath.”

Judge Roberts says he has written 49 opinions during his nearly two years on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Of those opinions, seven have been appealed to the Supreme Court, but the justices have not ruled on any.

In his financial disclosure statements, which pegs their total assets at about $5.3 million, the judge said he and his wife, also a lawyer, own sizable chunks of some of the hottest stocks on the market. Included in their $1.6 million stock portfolio are positions in XM Satellite Radio, Texas Instruments Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Dell Inc.

The couple also list $1.2 million in cash or in bank deposits. Judge Roberts’ gross income for 2003 — his last year in private practice as a partner in Hogan & Hartson LLP — was slightly more than $1 million.

In the report, Judge Roberts also offered some clarification about two matters that have raised concerns among liberals: how much time he spent in Florida working for the Bush campaign in the 2000 recount battle and whether he was a member of the conservative Federalist Society.

“My recollection is that I stayed less than one week,” he wrote. “I recall participating in a preparation session for another lawyer scheduled to appear before the Florida Supreme Court and generally being available to discuss issues as they arose. I returned to Tallahassee at some later point to meet with Governor Jeb Bush, to discuss in a general way the constitutional and statutory provisions implicated by the litigation.”

As for the Federalist Society — a group formed to counter liberalism in law schools — Judge Roberts said press reports have indicated that he was listed in 1997 on the steering committee of the group’s Washington chapter.

He also noted that he could be on the committee without being a member of the group.

“I have no recollection of serving on that Committee, or being a member of the Society,” he wrote. “I have participated in Society events, including moderating a panel around 1993 and more recently speaking before a lunch meeting of the Washington chapter on October 30, 2003.”

Meanwhile yesterday, the National Archives posted on its Web site 350 pages of documents from Judge Roberts’ time as a lawyer in the Reagan administration, when he was a 26-year-old assistant to Attorney General William French Smith.

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