Tuesday, August 23, 2005

John G. Roberts Jr. will end up the most-scrutinized Supreme Court selection in history, due in large part to the Internet, which has made it easier to look at his writings and to rally for or against his nomination.

Thousands of pages of his writings are available on the National Archives’ Web site, and every opinion that Judge Roberts has written during two years on a federal appeals court also is available.

Unlike earlier nominations, this time the press is no longer the sole source of information. This time, senators, lawyers and laymen alike can dissect Judge Roberts’ record firsthand and share their thoughts with the world.

“There are 15 million fact-checkers out there,” said Pete Snyder, founder of New Media Strategies, whose company tracks online forums and Web logs, or blogs. “They’re taking an article, they’re picking it apart and trying to find the flak.

“The sheer volume of discussion about the Roberts nomination is on par with discussion about a hit Hollywood summer blockbuster,” he said. “That’s how much the significance of this event permeates the blogosphere and the Internet.”

Miriam Kleiman, a spokeswoman for the National Archives, said the Internet has allowed a far broader audience to see the memos that Judge Roberts wrote when he was in the counsel’s office in the Reagan administration.

This year’s first release of about 15,000 pages was done the old-fashioned way — boxes of documents were available at an Archives facility for in-person review. But the second release — of 350 pages — was posted to the Internet, drawing thousands of hits over the first few days.

Thomas Goldstein, who runs sctnomination.com and is co-founder of the law firm Goldstein and Howe, said the Internet has also changed the way the interest groups work.

“Because they can now turn around and write and transmit very easily to their supporters information about what they learn, that changes things dramatically and puts things under a much greater microscope,” Mr. Goldstein said.

He said the Internet helps opponents more than supporters, because supporters were likely to rally around the president anyway, “but now opponents who are looking for something — some skeleton in the nominee’s writing — are much more able to find it and find something they can make use of.”

Mr. Goldstein’s Web site is among the most informative on Judge Roberts, including a calculation of how often Judge Roberts sided with liberals and conservatives during his two years on a federal appeals court. On split panels, it turns out that Judge Roberts voted with the liberal-leaning judges nearly as often as he voted with the conservative-leaning judges.

On other Web sites, postings run from random rumors about Judge Roberts to substantive discussions on niche areas of Judge Roberts’ jurisprudence.

In late July, for example, Sports Law Blog, found on the Web at sports-law.blogspot.com, looked at Judge Roberts’ writings about sports and his work on a Title IX sex-discrimination case.

As for the political blogs and online forums, they have bounced from issue to issue, beginning with whether Judge Roberts was a member of the Federalist Society, a group of conservative lawyers, to more recent debate over his views on gender pay equity.

Mr. Snyder said conservative-leaning sites were most active right after the nomination was announced, with liberal sites soon catching up. But he said the steam went out of the liberal blogs after Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, made positive comments about Judge Roberts.

“The sheer volume of negative discussion about Roberts just fizzled by 70 percent,” Mr. Snyder said. “If there’s ever an 800-pound gorilla, its name is Hillary Rodham Clinton.”

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