Roberts Bait-and-Switch

| Thu Aug. 4, 2005 2:41 PM EDT

The front page of the Los Angeles Times breathlessly reports: "Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts Jr. worked behind the scenes for gay rights activists, and his legal expertise helped them persuade the Supreme Court to issue a landmark 1996 ruling protecting people from discrimination because of their sexual orientation."

Oh my, so maybe Roberts isn't such a run-of-the-mill right-winger after all, eh?

Wrong.

Reading the story closely, it becomes clear that Roberts himself didn't take up this case, nor did he act as chief litigator. His firm, Hogan & Hartson, took up the case pro bono, and the firm "expected" its employees to pitch in from time to time. A colleague in need of assistance approached Roberts, because he was the guy who knew what sort of arguments would best appeal to a relatively conservative Supreme Court. And Roberts, quite naturally, helped out, and did a very professional job of it, because he's an extremely smart lawyer. Nor does it seem so unlikely that he would have forgotten to mention a decade-old case for which he provided incidental help. The whole ordeal seems perfectly ordinary, and doesn't provide any indication that Roberts might somehow cast a friendly eye on gay rights as a sitting justice on the Supreme Court. In all likelihood, he won't. So to answer Kevin Drum's question, some liberal muckraker probably floated this story to the Times to roil up a bit of discontent with Roberts among the religious right. If they take the bait, good, but liberal opponents of Roberts really shouldn't get their hopes up.