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SCOTUS-ROBERTS (UPDATED) Jul-20-2005 (750 words) With photos and graphic. xxxn

Nominee would be fourth Catholic justice on current court

By Patricia Zapor
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Judge John G. Roberts would become the fourth Catholic member of the current Supreme Court if he is confirmed by the Senate for the opening created by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's retirement.

Roberts, 50, was nominated July 19 by President George W. Bush, who called him "a man of extraordinary accomplishment and ability" who has "a good heart."

Roberts has been a judge of the federal appeals court for the District of Columbia for two years, after working in private practice in Washington and as a U.S. deputy solicitor general from 1989 to 1993. He also served as a clerk for Chief Justice William Rehnquist.

During the Reagan administration, he was an aide to White House counsel Fred Fielding and to Attorney General William French Smith. While in private practice, he was among the legal advisers for Bush during the 2000 battle over Florida's disputed presidential election results.

In private practice for Hogan and Hartson, and at the Justice Department, he regularly wrote briefs on cases before the Supreme Court and has argued cases there dozens of times.

One brief he co-wrote while deputy solicitor general, in the Rust vs. Sullivan case on abortion counseling, is being cited as a clue to his legal philosophy about Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.

"We continue to believe that Roe was wrongly decided and should be overruled," said the government's brief in the case. The court ruled 5-4 in that 1991 decision that the federal government's ban on abortion counseling in its Title X family planning program does not violate free-speech rights or a woman's right to an abortion.

A year later, arguing for the government in another abortion-related case, Roberts said blockades of abortion clinics were no more targeted at specific classes of people than were anti-draft protests.

Arguing before the Supreme Court in Bray vs. Alexandria Women's Health Clinic, Roberts said military draft protests and clinic blockades only incidentally had anything to do with gender.

Women seeking abortions are targeted "not for who they are but for what they are doing," Roberts said. The court in 1993 ruled 6-3 that abortion clinic blockades do not violate the 1871 Civil Rights Act and therefore do not warrant intervention by the federal government.

During confirmation hearings for his appointment to the appeals court, when asked about Roe vs. Wade, Roberts made a point of saying the stand on Roe in the Rust vs. Sullivan brief "was my position as an advocate for a client."

"Roe vs. Wade is the settled law of the land," he said. "It's a little more than settled. It was reaffirmed in the face of a challenge that it should be overruled in the Casey decision. Accordingly, it's the settled law of the land. There's nothing in my personal views that would prevent me from fully and faithfully applying that precedent, as well as Casey."

Planned Parenthood vs. Casey was a 1992 case that upheld states' rights to impose restrictions on abortion. An unsuccessful minority of the justices also attempted to use that case to overturn Roe.

Roberts is a native of Buffalo, N.Y., who moved with his family to Long Beach, Ind., when he was in elementary school. There he attended Catholic elementary and high schools. He was captain of the football team and class president at La Lumiere, a Catholic college prep school, before going on to earn undergraduate and law degrees from Harvard.

His wife, Jane Sullivan Roberts, is also an attorney who graduated from Holy Cross College and Georgetown University's law school. She also has degrees from Brown University in Rhode Island and Melbourne University in Australia.

She has been active in Feminists for Life, and is a member of the board of governors of the John Carroll Society, a Catholic lay organization that sponsors the annual Washington archdiocesan Red Mass before the opening of the Supreme Court term.

The Robertses, who have two children, are members of Little Flower Parish in Bethesda, Md., near their home in Chevy Chase, Md.

If confirmed, Roberts would be the 10th Catholic ever to serve on the court and the fourth among current members, joining Justices Clarence Thomas, Anthony Kennedy and Antonin Scalia.

Senate confirmation hearings are unlikely to begin before early September. The Supreme Court term begins Oct. 3.


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