Roberts and Luttig on Short List

Charles Lane and Jerry Markon have profiles on federal judges John G. Roberts Jr. and J. Michael Luttig, both of whom are said to be on President Bush’s short list for the Supreme Court.

Similar Appeal; Different Styles (WaPo, A4)

John G. Roberts Jr. and J. Michael Luttig have both marched up through the Republican ranks, from Supreme Court clerkships to White House jobs to the federal bench. Now the two area judges — Roberts sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit; Luttig is a Tysons Corner-based member of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit — have emerged on President Bush’s short list of potential nominees to the Supreme Court, according to lawyers familiar with the administration’s deliberations.

Conservative activists in the Republican base view both as far more acceptable than Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, who has become a top contender for the court, and have begun to promote the pair. But even though both judges are conservative — and close friends — they present a distinctly different choice in style and temperament that could influence their selection and say a great deal about how Bush wants to shape the court.

In his years as a lawyer, Roberts, 50, proved himself an affable and measured member of the Washington legal establishment. But his short tenure on the bench has meant fewer written opinions that can be parsed for his philosophy. Luttig, 51, is edgier, painting his ideas in bold intellectual strokes. He has left a long paper trail that liberal critics will try to mine to fight his appointment.

The difference between the two men is a bit like the difference between the two conservative justices they served — the easygoing William H. Rehnquist, for whom Roberts clerked in 1980 before Rehnquist became chief justice, and the combative Antonin Scalia, for whom Luttig clerked on the D.C. Circuit in 1982, and who is still a close friend. “Roberts is known as a much more judicious person. . . . Luttig would get certain people really jazzed up,” said a former administration official who, like other lawyers contacted for this article, declined to be named for fear of appearing to take sides. “For conservatives, Luttig is more exciting — because he is more excitable.”

Luttig does indeed sound like a more exciting choice, although Roberts would be much easier to confirm.

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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 and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Anderson says:

    Not, I hope, from the same experts who brought us “Rehnquist to resign Monday!” etc.

  2. Herb says:

    I can’t understand why Lawyers are consistently put up for the Supreme Court. We need someone with some common sense that does not have pre-conceived notions about our Constitution and who will represent the people rather that make Lew themselves. Most everyone will agree that Lawyers are the bottom of the food chain and will put it to you at every opportunity. There are very few Lawyers that have a decent reputation and that most average Americans think were not bottom feeders. One of Americas biggest problems is Congress and many many of them are Lawyers. That sends a message.

    Lawyers need to be told and not do the telling. Just ask anyone about their opinion of Lawyers and their answer should be the criterion of someone for the Supreme Court.

  3. Anderson says:

    Concur in result only w/ Herb’s comment … I think.

  4. I think this discussion is promoting form over substance and that that is a ruse to detract from the queries that are likely to arise on social issues that attempt to call religious beliefs “strict construction” of the Constitution. The fact of the matter is that the abortion flack is about much more than “life”. A recent study in Australia found that access to birth control and abortion translated into access to financial resources equal to the effects of a college education because of the effects on stability in the workforce, attitudes about women’s perceived ambition etc. Couching it in purely “moral” terms when it has much more profound effect does us all a disservice. Besides “free choice” means exactly that to be free to make your “moral” decisions on your own either yay or nay without coercion. I think that is what strict construction of the Constitution is all about anyway. I don’t care how pleasantly some one says I have to live by their religious rules, it doesn’t change the fact that that act is despotic.

  5. ALS says:

    I don’t care how pleasantly some one says I have to live by their religious rules, it doesn’t change the fact that that act is despotic.

    But don’t confuse “morality” with “religion.” That’s part of the problem with this debate. Everyone makes the leap from morals to religion. For some people, yes, religion dictates their morals, and thus, their behavior. But not all.

    My morals have very little to do with my religious beliefs, and most Americans report the same sentiment in polls.