Prominent conservatives tell HUMAN EVENTS they are troubled by the revelation that Supreme Court nominee John Roberts worked on behalf of Playboy Entertainment Group–the second time in one week information has come to light that Roberts helped a liberal cause.
Last Thursday conservatives were hit with the news that Roberts, while a partner at Hogan & Hartson, did pro bono work for gay-rights advocates in the case Romer v. Evans, which challenged a Colorado voter-approved initiative on sexual orientation. Yesterday, HUMAN EVENTS documented Roberts’ similar involvement in a case involving Playboy and its challenge of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which sought to restrict young children from viewing pornography.
Roberts’ firm came out on the winning side in each case before the Supreme Court. But it is his involvement in both–playing the role of a Supreme Court justice in a moot court setting–that has led to second-guessing among conservatives who wonder why he wouldn’t politely decline such assignments.
“John Roberts was a senior partner. John Roberts did not have to take these cases,” said the Rev. Patrick Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition. “If John Roberts volunteered to take these cases, then this is very, very troubling.
“It goes to a core value,” Mahoney told HUMAN EVENTS. “Would there be any cases Judge Roberts wouldn’t take? Would he defend the North American Man/Boy Love Association? Would he defend racist groups? Is there a line drawn where an attorney would not take cases? I would suppose if it isn’t for stifling a voter-approved initiative and for pornography being made more available to minors, then what kind of cases wouldn’t Judge Roberts take?”
One conservative group–Public Advocate–pulled its support for Roberts this week after learning of his role in the Romer case. The fact that Roberts was involved in the Playboy case as well should outrage conservative activists who are supporting his confirmation, said the group’s president, Eugene Delgaudio.
“We’ve got somebody who has worked for the political opposition for free and for pay. If he worked for pro-aborts, would that be enough?” Delgaudio said. “Do we really think, as conservatives, the stampede toward pornography and gay rights is the right thing? When do we starting mobilizing and reacting?”
In the Playboy case, Roberts helped prepare Playboy’s lead counsel, Robert Corn-Revere, who worked with him at Hogan & Hartson, for his oral argument before the Supreme Court in 1999, Corn-Revere told HUMAN EVENTS yesterday. Roberts also attended a meeting that same year at the U.S. solicitor general’s office on behalf of Playboy.
“In the 3-and-a-half to 4 years we worked on that case,” Corn-Revere said, “John may have devoted about a dozen hours at most.”
With some of the nation’s most well-known conservatives gathering in Nashville, Tenn., for “Justice Sunday II” this weekend, the issue of Roberts’ work at Hogan & Hartson could serve as a distraction to the event. The Family Research Center, the primary sponsor of “Justice Sunday II,” declined to comment about the Playboy revelations after issuing a supportive statement last week about his involvement in the Romer case.
Other groups, however, said Roberts should be questioned vigorously about his work on behalf of liberal interests when he testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee in September.
“We don’t feel compelled to either attack him or defend him at this point,” said Peter Brandt, director of issues response for Focus on the Family. “These are all issues that I’m sure will come out at the hearings, and we don’t want to speculate on them. We’re like everyone else–anxious to watch the hearings and hear the questions that will be asked of him.”
Added Robert Knight, director of the Culture and Family Institute, an affiliate of Concerned Women for America: “It’s a troubling revelation, and it raises the question whether and when attorneys should excuse themselves from certain cases that violate their beliefs. Attorneys are hired guns. They don’t necessarily believe in the cause they represent, but there must be some limitation somewhere when you’re dealing with issues that have the potential to change the moral fabric of the country. We hope that there are some good questions at the September hearing for Judge Roberts.”
The Rev. Rob Schenck, president of the National Clergy Council, said Roberts still has his backing, but he questioned whether Roberts could have avoided any anxiety by declining involvement in the cases. He said he is encouraging Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee to be “quiet severe” in their line of questioning.
“In the Playboy case, ideally he would have said, ‘I don’t want any part of this.’ But whether that was even possible for him is an open question,” Schenck told HUMAN EVENTS. “I will temper my enthusiasm, though. I never thought we were going to get a perfect nominee. I don’t think we can get a perfect nominee. But I continue to think that Judge Roberts was the best nominee that we were going to get out of the Bush Administration.”
Mahoney, however, noted the pitfalls of following the administration’s enthusiasm without first putting Roberts on the spot. “If Judge Roberts turns out to be [Anthony] Kennedy-esque or [David] Souter-esque,” Mahoney said, “the people who backed Roberts and were not aggressive have some serious questions to answer, not only to their constituents but to the nation itself.”