Three hours after the Senate overwhelmingly approved his nomination, John Roberts became the 17th Chief Justice of the United States on Thursday.
"What Daniel Webster termed the miracle of our Constitution is not something that happens in every generation, but every generation in its turn must accept the responsibility of supporting and defending the Constitution and bearing true faith and allegiance to it," Roberts said after being sworn in.
After breathing a sigh of relief over our new Chief Justice’s commitment to the Constitution, conservatives should look around for people and organizations to thank for this victory. One place to start would be the Center for Individual Freedom (CFIF), a small nonpartisan organization in Alexandria, Virginia, dedicated to protecting the constitutional rights of all Americans. Founded in 1998 by Thomas Humber, a former business and public relations executive, CFIF was working on the judicial nominations issue long before it was politically popular to do so.
And while most Americans relied on the mainstream media to tell us about Roberts and his views, our pals at CFIF were poring over hundreds of documents to get the real story. While we speculated about whether or not Roberts was a real conservative, CFIF General Counsel Reid Alan Cox knew it for sure. “If there’s one consistent theme throughout his writings,” Cox said, “it’s that he believes the Constitution supports the idea of limited government.”
Cox is confident that Roberts is “a very strong conservative,” but warns citizens to be careful about choosing a justice’s worthiness based on specific issues that may come before the Court. Instead of holding each candidate to a litmus test, Cox says, we should ask how they arrive at their legal rulings.
And even though Roberts does seem to be “right” on most issues that conservatives care about, requiring him to speculate on issues such as abortion simply “politicizes the judiciary and helps the liberals,” said Cox. Rather than picking judges who seek a particular outcome, conservatives should be looking for those who understand that the Constitution comes first and who won’t legislate from the bench.
“A judge’s role is not to be a legislator,” says Cox, “and [judges] need to understand that. No judge should decide a case while asking, ‘If I were president or a legislator, would I have made the same choice?’ If the law doesn’t violate one of the specific enumerations of the Constitution, then… a judge [doesn’t] have the authority to do anything about it. If you have a problem with the Constitution, amend it. It’s not the judge’s job to change it.”
Cox, for one, is extremely happy to see Roberts confirmed. “Roberts is going to be a force on the Court,” he predicts, especially in terms of building coalitions and bringing other justices over to his view. On the other hand, Cox notes, Justice Antonin Scalia, who tends to make conservatives cheer, is not a coalition-builder.
Another reason Cox feels confident about Roberts is that “the Supreme Court should be the nine smartest lawyers in America, and John Roberts is among the most brilliant attorneys of his generation – there’s absolutely no question.”
Contrast Roberts’ brilliance with the filibuster-loving Senate Democrats, who are “paying the political price for a poorly-calculated strategy,” says Marshall Manson, CFIF’s Vice President of Public Affairs. The Dems’ strategy against judges has cost them their minority leader in 2004. “Daschle’s behavior toward judges became the central example of his drift from South Dakotan to Washingtonian,” said Manson.
The Center for Individual Freedom was fighting for fair up-or-down votes back then too, and even established CFIF’s Confirmation Watch Project several years ago. CFIF has also compiled a Supreme Court Confirmation Watch page to track the status of the two SCOTUS openings this year.
The CFIF staff is encouraged by the Senate’s vote this week. “A number of Democrats did the right thing and cast their votes in favor of the Chief Justice’s confirmation,” notes an editorial released Thursday by CFIF. “In doing so, they demonstrated the folly of their past obstruction of judicial confirmations based on ideology... It also shows that Democratic efforts to treat nominees like political candidates are doomed to fail.”
CFIF also does some excellent work covering issues ranging from United Nations reform to obesity lawsuits to tort reform to campaign finance reform. From the beginning, CFIF’s goal was to represent individual freedoms and rights across a broad spectrum, since many organizations choose instead to fight for one or two specific issues. “We’re not big enough to alter [Congress’s] agenda, admits Manson freely, so the organization picks issues about which “somebody needs to speak up.”
Campaign finance reform is one of these issues, and you can tell as the topic comes up that this issue in particular gets under the staff’s skin. “Mc-Cain-Feingold is the ultimate incumbent protection,” argues Manson. “It’s actually ‘free speech for no one but us.’” CFIF is looking forward to a campaign finance fight in Congress before the end of the year.
Jennifer Biddison is Coalitions Manager and Associate Editor for Townhall.com.