Magazine article The New Yorker

ROE V. ROVE; COMMENT Series: 1/5

Magazine article The New Yorker

ROE V. ROVE; COMMENT Series: 1/5

Article excerpt

As of last Monday, when Time and Newsweek hit the stands with Karl Rove on their covers, the elements were in place for a good old-fashioned second-term White House scandal wallow. In Rove himself--baby-faced hatchet man, architect of the political career of George W. Bush, possessor of one of the most admiring nicknames Bush has ever bestowed (Boy Genius) and one of the most pungent (Turd Blossom), deputy chief of the White House staff--the story had a villain, who, like all the best villains, came equipped with vassals acclaiming him a hero. It had a silent, remorseless lawman in Patrick Fitzgerald, the special counsel tasked with investigating the unauthorized and possibly unlawful disclosure of the identity of a covert C.I.A. operative. It had a colorful supporting cast, including the spy herself (an attractive blonde whose neighbors thought she was just another working mom), her husband (a flamboyant ex-diplomat whose secret mission and subsequent apostasy set the stage for skulduggery), and a Times reporter jailed for her refusal to talk. Rove's participation in the leak, categorically denied by the White House for almost two years, had become a firmly established fact, though its extent and legality remained in dispute. President Bush, questioned by reporters, promised that "if someone committed a crime, they will no longer work in my Administration," thereby rendering inoperative his earlier pledge to fire anyone "involved" in the leak. And the budding scandal had a larger meaning, as a surrogate for the more serious, and more muted, debate over America's faltering war in Iraq.

That was Monday. On Tuesday, Bush went on prime-time television and announced his choice to replace Sandra Day O'Connor on the Supreme Court: a fifty-year-old federal appellate judge by the generic all-American name of John Roberts. The timetable had been moved up, the conservative activist Paul Weyrich told The Hill, a Washington weekly, "in order to get the Rove story and other things off the front page." Next to the President under the East Room lights were two adorable, fidgeting children; their accomplished, smiling mother; and their father, the nominee--kindly of gaze, square of jaw, dimpled of chin. Bulletproof of resume, too, it looks like. Barring the revelation of some improbable depravity, John G. Roberts, Jr., will be confirmed; barring actuarial anomalies, he can be expected to serve until the twenty-forties. Moreover, he will be confirmed politely, after thorough questioning and civil debate. There will be no filibuster this time.

Roberts's confirmation will be eased by the narrowness of his life experience, which has taken place within the confines of a disciplined and unidirectional legal career. As a lawyer, he has argued many cases and written many briefs, but they were always on behalf of a client, whether a person or a corporation or the United States government. And lawyers, whose professional duty is to advocate, are granted the privilege of saying things they don't necessarily believe. Roberts has had more leeway during his two years on the bench, but appeals judges are bound by Supreme Court precedent. Supreme Court Justices make Supreme Court precedent.

Democrats are taking a certain solace in the nominee's gentle temperament. He is not, it appears, a hater; nor is he even a particularly rigid ideologue. Unlike Justices Scalia and Thomas, Roberts does not project a sense of resentful beleaguerment--the kind of resentment expressed last Thursday in an e-mail to supporters of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, over the signature of Senator Elizabeth Dole. …

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