FLASHBACK: Ed Whelan defended Chief Justice Roberts for leaving the Federalist Society off his questionnaire

Blog ››› ››› ADAM SHAH

Right-wing media figures -- including National Review Online blogger and Ethics and Public Policy Center president Ed Whelan -- have been baselessly suggesting that judicial nominee Goodwin Liu was trying to hide something by submitting additional writings and statements as a supplement to his Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire.

University of Minnesota law professor Richard Painter, a former assistant White House counsel during the Bush administration, pretty much destroyed those arguments, noting of Liu's additions, "most of these items are the types of things that law professors do routinely and frequently" and are thus "nearly impossible to keep track of" and stating: "Professor Liu also apparently does not have a photographic memory. It appears to me, however, that his original answers to the questions were a careful and good faith effort to supply the Senate with the information it needed to assess his nomination." Painter continued: "He provided a lot more information than many nominees do in response to these questions. He has now provided the additional information the Senate wants. I doubt the Senators will learn anything new from it."

Since Painter's definitive debunking hasn't stopped the attacks, we thought it was worth remembering that Chief Justice John Roberts omitted his affiliation with the Federalist Society from the questionnaire he submitted as a court of appeals nominee in 2001. That questionnaire asked Roberts to "list all bar associations, legal or judicial-related committees or conferences of which you are or have been a member." Roberts listed several legal organizations but did not list the Federalist Society -- an influential conservative legal organization to which many of President Bush's judicial nominees belonged -- in response to that question. However, according to The Washington Post, the Federalist Society listed Roberts' name in its 1997-98 "leadership directory." The Post reported that the Federalist Society listed Roberts "as a member of the steering committee of the organization's Washington chapter and includes his firm's address and telephone number."

And who was busy excusing Roberts for not listing the Federalist Society on his questionnaire? Ed Whelan.

From the Post:

Whelan, who has been a member of the Federalist Society but said he had no recollection of his own membership on the steering committee, said the society is tolerant of those who come to its meetings or serve on committees without paying dues.

"John Roberts probably realized pretty quickly he could take part in activities he wanted to" without being current on his dues, Whelan said.

It should be noted that the questionnaire Roberts filled out for his Supreme Court nomination asked if Roberts to list all the organizations to which he currently belonged, had ever belonged, or in which he participated. This time, Roberts stated:

According to recent press reports, in 1997 I was listed in brochures as a member of the Washington Lawyers Steering Committee of the Federalist Society. The same reports indicate that one could be on the Committee without also being a member of the Society. I have no recollection of serving on that Committee or being a member of the Society. I have participated in Society events, including moderating a panel in 1993 and more recently speaking before a lunch meeting of the Washington chapter on October 30, 2003.

From the Post article:

Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts Jr. has repeatedly said that he has no memory of belonging to the Federalist Society, but his name appears in the influential, conservative legal organization's 1997-1998 leadership directory.

Having served only two years on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit after a long career as a government and private-sector lawyer, Roberts has not amassed much of a public paper record that would show his judicial philosophy. Working with the Federalist Society would provide some clue of his sympathies. The organization keeps its membership rolls secret, but many key policymakers in the Bush administration are acknowledged current or former members.

Roberts has burnished his legal image carefully. When news organizations have reported his membership in the society, he or others speaking on his behalf have sought corrections. Last week, the White House told news organizations that had reported his membership in the group that he had no memory of belonging. The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today and the Associated Press printed corrections.

Over the weekend, The Post obtained a copy of the Federalist Society Lawyers' Division Leadership Directory, 1997-1998. It lists Roberts, then a partner at the law firm Hogan & Hartson, as a member of the steering committee of the organization's Washington chapter and includes his firm's address and telephone number.

Yesterday, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Roberts "has no recollection of being a member of the Federalist Society, or its steering committee." Roberts has acknowledged taking part in some Federalist Society activities, Perino said.

The Federalist Society was founded in 1982 by conservatives who disagreed with what they saw as a leftist tilt in the nation's law schools. The group sponsors legal symposia and similar activities and serves as a network for rising conservative lawyers.

[...]

Membership in the sense of paying dues was not required as a condition of inclusion in a listing of the society's leadership, Leo said. He declined to say whether Roberts had ever paid dues, citing a policy of keeping membership information confidential.

Whelan, who has been a member of the Federalist Society but said he had no recollection of his own membership on the steering committee, said the society is tolerant of those who come to its meetings or serve on committees without paying dues.

"John Roberts probably realized pretty quickly he could take part in activities he wanted to" without being current on his dues, Whelan said.

These may seem like fine distinctions, but Roberts has insisted on them. In 2001, after he was nominated by President Bush for the seat he currently holds on the court of appeals, Roberts spoke to Post reporter James V. Grimaldi and asked him to correct an item Grimaldi had written that described Roberts as a member of the Federalist Society. In a subsequent column, Grimaldi wrote that Roberts "is not and never has been a member of the Federalist Society, as previous reported in this column."

Posted In
Government, Nominations & Appointments, The Judiciary
Network/Outlet
National Review Online
Person
Ed Whelan
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