Raspberry: Roberts Too Rich for Court

William Raspberry ends a column explaining why he does not want men like John Roberts on the Supreme Court by relating a conversation with

. . . a friend — black, conservative and Republican — who was laying out the reasons he opposes the Roberts nomination.

It isn’t his conservatism, my friend said, but the too-smooth path by which Roberts has arrived at this juncture. Son of a wealthy steel executive, Roberts attended private schools, Harvard and Harvard Law School, then held a federal appeals court clerkship, followed a year later by a clerkship with Supreme Court Justice (now Chief Justice) William Rehnquist.

He then was named special assistant to the U.S. attorney general, and associate counsel to the president (at age 27) before joining one of Washington’s top law firms. Then Roberts went to the office of the solicitor general of the United States and, for the past two years, a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

The point: Nothing in that glide path suggests exposure to anything that might temper his conservative philosophy with real-life exposure to the problems and concerns of ordinary men and women. Roberts is undeniably bright, said my friend, but his life has been one of quite extraordinary privilege.

And then it occurred to me: Roberts’s life has been amazingly like that of the man who wants to put him on the court — but with better grades.

I usually disagree with Raspberry but respect his fairminded approach to political analysis. This, though, strikes me as rather odd. Is he really arguing that people who had the good luck to be born into wealth are unfit for public service?

Most of the those who founded this country and most of those who have served as president, congressmen, or on the Supreme Court have come from elite backgrounds. Is there evidence that those few who rose up from poverty have been more effective?

Roberts started out with advantages most did not–not least of which was an extraordinary intellect. Yet, rather than simply devote his life to making as much money as possible, he has spent significant periods of his career in the public service making civil service wages.

Further, while I’ve never been burdened by excessive wealth, I would imagine that most wealthy people face pretty much the same strains that the rest of us do. To be sure, they seldom worry about going hungry or missing a mortgage payment. Then again, most of us in the middle class only fear those things in the abstract.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Anon says:

    Going hungry is perhaps an abstract fear for most in the middle class, but I’m not so sure about missing a mortgage payment.

  2. Maggie says:

    Gee, that seems like a sound basis for choosing a Supreme Court Judge….so would he use the same argument in choosing US Senators…..

    Kennedy, Corzine, Rockefeller?

    Please what total nonsense … I can’t feel you’re pain cause:

    I’m not black….I’ve never been raped….I didn’t lose a loved-one on 9/11…and on and on and on.

  3. bryan says:

    Clarence Thomas is perhaps the last supreme court justice appointed who actually rose from poverty – and we’re talking real, georgia coast segregation era poverty.

    How’s that workin’ out for ya’, Mr. Raspberry?

  4. ICallMasICM says:

    ‘One nation indivisable, except for anyone who isn’t exactly like me’

  5. Jon Henke says:

    Note, please, that William Raspberry voted for Kerry and Edwards….wealthy, privileged lawyers.

  6. Jim Rhoads (vnjagvet) says:

    And check out the financial disclosures for Justices Breyer and Ginsburg. Not paupers by anyone’s measure. Before or after their ascension to the Supreme Bench.

  7. RA says:

    If you didn’t grow up in the hood, killed two people in gang related violence and ripped off a credit card company by hitting your max and declaring bankrupcy, your not qualified.

    Working hard, getting good grades, being spectacularly successful in every job you take, is no good. That’s just being white and we can’t have that.

  8. ICallMasICM says:

    He probably doesn’t have any ass tats either.

  9. Kent says:

    Raspberry is one of the few liberal commentators who I occasionally find worth reading. He is, however, rather uneven. This was not one of his better columns.

    On a bit of a tangent, Richard Reeves also used to be occasionally worth reading. He has since developed a bad case of Bush Derangement Syndrome. I haven’t seen so many signs of that in Raspberry.

    And, yes, there are plenty of conservative commentators not worth reading. Ann Coulter and, increasingly, Michelle Malkin come to mind. Rush Limbaugh was, of course, never a commentator — only an entertainer.