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Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Young Mister Roberts

The various data purges we have seen in recent days (i.e., here and here) of John Roberts' memoranda from his days as a junior lawyer in the Reagan administration have been entertaining (writing about a correspondent who imagined that "all property in the U.S. has been placed in a trust," Roberts notes that the correspondent comes from L.A., and adds, "Where else?).  But have they been informative?  Should they fuel Democratic senators' efforts to paint Roberts as a lurking and dangerous neo-con?  (See here.)

I'm not so sure.  Surely they provide some evidence of Roberts' views, and it is not out of the question to look to the sapling when seeking to understand the tree.  But what mostly strikes me about the Roberts memos so far is that they speak to just how young he was.  There is little here of Harlan's restraint: this is a young, brash, bright, energetic lawyer -- sometimes cocky, sometimes witty, sometimes a little arrogant.  In other words, much like many other young lawyers before him and since, feeling the first flush of their talents at use, but perhaps not so cognizant of the limits of their knowledge and not yet fully chastened by experience.  This is a Roberts with substantial technical skills and (usually) a nice, light touch in his writing, but as yet not fully seasoned by that practical wisdom that is so essential to the compleat lawyer.

Again, I'm not saying people oughtn't pay attention to the early record.  It seems likely to me that Roberts is more seasoned and must occasionally wince (and laugh) to see some of his early writing.  It seems to me we cannot overpredict on the basis of this writing -- although he was clearly conservative, broadly speaking, and likely still is.  But mostly these memos strike me as painting a vivid picture of what it is like to be a bright young lawyer, for good and for ill.  Even we who are not bright can remember what it was like to be young, and read with a measure of sympathy, nostalgia, enjoyment, chagrin -- and forbearance.      

Posted by Paul Horwitz on August 17, 2005 at 06:48 PM in Law and Politics | Permalink


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I completely agree, especially given that I would likely wince at some of the opinions I held even five or six years ago.

Posted by: Ugh | Aug 17, 2005 7:38:13 PM

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