John Roberts supporters give sales pitch at lawyers meeting |

John Roberts supporters give sales pitch at lawyers meeting

CHICAGO – Supreme Court nominee John Roberts skipped the American Bar Association’s yearly meeting, but big-name conservatives like Kenneth Starr and Theodore Olson were there to promote his credentials.Roberts’ nomination to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor is a watershed for lawyers. And with Senate confirmation hearings just a month away, he was the inescapable subject at the meeting of the country’s largest lawyers group.Top conservatives, from Starr and Olson to Reagan administration Attorney General Edwin Meese and Federalist Society leader Leonard Leo, were attending the meeting and serving as unofficial ambassadors on Roberts’ behalf.”For those people who know him and can vouch for his capabilities and his excellence, this is a good opportunity,” Meese said.Roberts’ nomination is also being promoted on television, radio and the Internet, with a $1 million campaign by the conservative group Progress for America.About 10,000 people were in Chicago for the ABA’s 128th annual meeting. The group weighs in on all federal judge appointments, with a grade on their qualifications.A committee has not finished the Roberts’ credentials review, but that didn’t stop lawyers who are not involved in the process from engaging in their favorite pastime: debating.”He has covered his tracks well,” said Barton Resnicoff of Great Neck, N.Y, while wandering through exhibits of vibrating recliner chairs, custom suit makers and law books.Said Villanova University law professor Lewis Becker: “Covered his tracks suggests something devious. We don’t know that.”Resnicoff responded, “He has taken positions but not taken positions.”Roberts, a 50-year-old federal appeals court judge, went to Washington as a law clerk to Associate Justice William H. Rehnquist in 1980 and never left. The Harvard Law School graduate worked in the administrations of President Reagan and Bush’s father, and he became a wealthy private practice appellate lawyer. He has been a judge for two years.Thousands of pages of documents that have been released so far from Roberts’ government service reveal a plucky young man with ardent conservative views but nothing concrete on how he will vote on matters like abortion and the death penalty. O’Connor was a moderate and an influential swing voter.As a private attorney, Roberts did free legal work for a death row inmate, welfare clients and gay rights activists. But his government memos suggest he would aggressively move to limit civil rights.Starr, who was solicitor general and Roberts’ boss during the first Bush administration, was surrounded at meetings and receptions by people hungry for any tidbit about Roberts.Olson, another former colleague, was headlining events on Monday and Tuesday, the final days of the meeting.Roberts is an ABA member but has not been especially active in the group, which has clashed with the Bush White House over presidential war powers and even whether the group should be involved in peer reviews of judges.In the past, the association has taken stands for abortion rights and a moratorium on capital punishment.”The ABA has been regarded as a branch of the Democratic Party,” said Thomas Merrill, a Columbia Law School professor and a former Roberts’ colleague in the government who was at the meeting.But Merrill said Roberts’ successes as a Supreme Court lawyer – he won 25 of the 39 cases he argued there as a private practice and government lawyer – make it easy to sell his credentials to lawyers.”Even very liberal lawyers would respect that,” he said.—On the Net:American Bar Association:, Colorado

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