21 July 2005

Confirmation Path May Run Through Florida

Roberts' low-profile role as an advisor to Republicans during the 2000 presidential recount fight is likely to be closely scrutinized.

Peter Wallsten - July 21, 2005

WASHINGTON — As the 2000 presidential recount battle raged in Florida, a Washington lawyer named John G. Roberts Jr. traveled to Tallahassee, the state capital, to dispense legal advice.

He operated in the shadows at least some of those 37 days, never signing a legal brief and rarely making an appearance at the makeshift headquarters for George W. Bush's legal team.

But now Roberts has been selected for the very Supreme Court that put Bush into office by settling the recount, chosen by the president to replace the swing vote in that 5-4 decision. And his work in Florida during that time is coming into focus, giving critics some ammunition to paint a respected jurist with an apparently unblemished legal career as an ideological partisan.

Republican lawyers who worked on the recount said Wednesday that Roberts advised Gov. Jeb Bush on the role that the governor and the Florida Legislature might play in the recount battle. At the time, when GOP officials feared that Democrat Al Gore might win a recount battle in court, Republican state lawmakers were devising a plan to use their constitutional power to assign the state's electoral votes to George W. Bush — a proposal criticized by Democrats.

Responding to questions Wednesday about Roberts' role in Florida, a spokesman for Gov. Bush's office said that Roberts had been recommended to the governor, although the spokesman gave no further specifics, and that the two had not known each other until the recount. Miami trial lawyer Dean Colson, who met Roberts when both were law clerks for Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and who was best man at Roberts' wedding, is also close personally with Gov. Bush.

[...] Critics, though, were quick to say that Roberts' role in the 2000 election, however minor, suggested that he was not merely the bookish legal scholar described by his supporters.

[...] Three years later, President Bush nominated Roberts to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. His position on that court, often a steppingstone to the Supreme Court, paved the way for Tuesday's announcement, the culmination of Roberts' legal career.


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