Doing Montana Justice


On September 29, the Senate overwhelmingly voted to confirm Judge John G. Roberts Jr. to the lifetime position of Chief Justice.

We hope that he understands the key role the courts play in protecting the rights and freedoms of people who face discrimination or have their civil rights violated. We hope that people will have access to the courts when necessary, and that this Supreme Court will uphold the laws that protect all Americans.

Many civil rights groups opposed his confirmation because of Roberts' record, and we have provided links to some opinions here, as well as compiled information of our own.

Read about what a difference one Supreme Court Justice makes.

-Opinions and analyses
-His career as an attorney
     Briefs and memos written by Judge Roberts
     List of cases Judge Roberts argued before the Supreme Court
-Legal opinions Judge Roberts wrote as a federal judge

The opinions he issued as a judge and the arguments he made as an attorney provide indication of where Judge Roberts stands on civil rights issues.

We have summarized the civil rights cases a new Supreme Court justice will help decide next term.  The following resources shed some like on how Judge Roberts might vote on them.

Partner campaign People for the American Way provides an analysis of the Record of Judge John G. Roberts, Jr. and warns that Judge Roberts might apply the conservative ideology currently espoused by Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. Also, PFAW's's analysis of where Judge Roberts stands on various issues.

Supreme Court lawyer Kevin Russell, posting on the Supreme Court Nomination Blog, theorizes about Judge Roberts' views on the reach of Congressional authority.

For a commentary on how the arguments Judge Roberts made as an attorney might reveal a hostility to Native American tribal rights, read this analysis in Indian Country Today

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Memos and Written Materials
Early in his career as an attorney, Judge Roberts served worked in the United States Justice Department and as an assistant in the White House Counsel's office. In these capacities, Judge Roberts wrote memos to his supervisors analyzing various legal issues. He also helped write legal briefs on important issues. The opinions he presents in these written document demonstrate a conservative take on many important issues. says Judge Roberts' memos reveal hostility toward affirmative action and other civil rights legislation.

Walter Dellinger, a Duke law professor, discusses how a lawyer's professional writings may or may not reveal personal views, in an op-ed in the Washington Post.

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Supreme Court Arguments
During his career as an attorney, Judge John Roberts argued many cases before the Supreme Court including cases in the following civil rights areas. Click on the name of the case to link to the full text of the Supreme Court's opinion.

Gonzaga University v. Doe, 536 U.S. 273 (2002).
Many federal laws are designed to protect our rights as citizens.  Unfortunately many of these laws and regulations become meaningless if private citizens cannot sue when they are violated. Section 1983 of the federal code instills in all citizens a right to sue anyone who, under color of law, deprives us of any "rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws." This law carves out an important path into court for people looking to redress violations of their rights. Unfortunately the Supreme Court's decision in Gonzaga University v. Doe held that courts must strictly evaluate the language of federal law and search for "rights creating" language before permitting private citizens to sue. Judge John Roberts represented Gonzaga University in this case, arguing to the Supreme Court that private citizen should not be permitted to sue under this federal law. Following Judge Roberts' argument, the court sided with Gonzaga and established a new test making it even more difficult for private citizens to find legal paths to protect their rights.

Toyota Motor Mfg., Kentucky, Inc. v. Williams, 534 U.S. 184 (2002).
When Ella Williams, a woman with manual disabilities sued her employer, Toyota, for discrimination, Judge Roberts represented Toyota in the case's appeal before the Supreme Court. Judge Roberts argued that the Court should narrowly interpret "disability" under the Americans with Disabilities Act so that women like Mrs. Williams would be excluded from coverage. His argument persuaded the Court, and its decision in this case established a new and stricter test to evaluate when someone is "disabled" and therefore entitled to protection under the ADA.

Rice v. Cayetano, 528 U.S. 495 (2000).
Judge John Roberts argued on behalf of the Governor of Hawaii to defend a Hawaiian law that permitted only Native Hawaiians to vote in particular elections. The Supreme Court ruled against Judge Roberts, finding that the law posed an unconstitutional race-based requirement on voting rights in violation of the Fifteenth Amendment.

Alaska v. Native Village of Venetie Tribal Government, 522 U.S. 520 (1998).
The Native Village of Venetie Tribal Government in Alaska owned land on which the state of Alaska built a public school in cooperation with a private contractor. The Tribal Government tried to collect tax payments from Alaska based on Alaska’s use of their land. Judge John Roberts represented the State of Alaska to argue before the Supreme Court that tax payments were not owed because the land was not "Indian Country" as defined by federal law. A unanimous Supreme Court agreed with Judge Roberts and denied the Tribal Government's tax claim.

For a commentary on what Judge Roberts' argument in this and other cases might reveal about his opinion of tribal rights, read this analysis in Indian Country Today.

National Collegiate Athletic Ass'n v. Smith, 525 U.S. 459 (1999).
Judge John Roberts represented the NCAA before the Supreme Court to defend against a claim of sex discrimination lodged against the organization by a female athlete. Judge Roberts argued that Title IX (a federal law prohibiting sex discrimination at educational institutions receiving federal monies) did not apply to the NCAA. A unanimous court agreed with Judge Roberts, holding that even though the NCAA’s member schools are subject to Title IX, the organization itself is not, and therefore cannot be the subject of a sex discrimination suit under Title IX.

Bray v. Alexandria Women's Health Clinic, 506 U.S. 263 (1993).
In this case, a women’s health clinic that performed abortions brought suit against protesters who had blocked access to the clinic. The clinic argued that protesters had interfered with the federal rights of women seeking abortions and were therefore liable under federal law. Judge John Roberts, in his role as Deputy Solicitor General, argued and submitted a legal brief on behalf of the United States saying that the clinic should not be allowed to sue the protesters in federal court.  he Supreme Court sided with Judge Roberts and the protesters, to hold that the protesters engaged in trespass and blockading (violations of state law) but that a case against them did not belong in federal court.

Barnhart v. Peabody Coal Co., 537 U.S. 149 (2003).
Judge John Roberts represented Peabody Coal Company in this case to challenge the position of the United States Commissioner on Social Security.  Peabody Coal was required to pay benefits to retired coal workers with whom the company had been associated under the Coal Industry Retiree Health Benefit Act. Roberts argued that because payment to the miners had been requested after a date mentioned in the Act, Peabody should not be required to pay benefits. The Supreme Court disagreed with Roberts in a 6-3 decision and required Peabody to pay the requested benefits.

E. Associated Coal Corp. v. United Mine Workers of Am., Dist. 17, 531 U.S. 57 (2000).
Judge Roberts' client Eastern Associated Coal Corp. entered into a collective bargaining agreement with its workers' union that required independent arbitration about any firing decision. Following the agreement, a labor arbitrator ordered conditional reinstatement of an employee truck driver who had twice tested positive for marijuana. Judge John Roberts argued on behalf of Eastern Coal that the arbitrator’s order should not be enforced.  The Supreme Court ruled 9-0 against Judge Roberts, finding that public policy supported enforcement of the provisions of the labor agreement.

National Credit Union Admin. v. First Nat. Bank & Trust Co., 522 U.S. 479 (1998).
Judge John Roberts represented private credit unions to argue that credit unions could service members of different occupational groups that joined together to form a union.  A 5-4 majority of the Supreme Court disagreed, holding that federal law allowed only members of common occupations to form credit unions, which are public or private associations formed to provide financial credit assistance.  Congress later overruled the Supreme Court’s decision by amending the Federal Credit Union Act to permit more broadly based credit unions.

Tahoe-Sierra Preservation Council, Inc. v. Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, 535 U.S. 302 (2002).
In this landmark property rights case Judge John Roberts argued on behalf of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency that a temporary prohibition of development on land around Lake Tahoe should not entitle landowners to compensation. The Court agreed in a 6-3 decision that protected the ability of zoning commissions to institute temporary moratoriums on development to protect environmental interests.

Smith v. Doe, 538 U.S. 84 (2003).
Judge John Roberts argued before the Supreme Court in this case in favor of Alaska’s Sex Offender Registration law.  The law requires convicted sex offenders to register with authorities if they are present in Alaska, even if their convictions occurred prior to the law’s passage.  A 6-3 majority of the Court agreed with Roberts’ position and upheld the law.

Feltner v. Columbia Pictures Television, Inc., 523 U.S. 340 (1998).
Judge John Roberts argued this case before the Supreme Court, representing the owner of several television stations.  A judge had found that the station owner infringed Columbia’s copyrights by showing television shows on his stations without paying royalties.  Judge Roberts argued that the Constitution gave the station owner a right to a jury trial on the facts of the case.  The Supreme Court agreed and awarded the station owner a jury trial.

Jerome B. Grubart, Inc. v. Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co., 513 U.S. 527 (1995).
A dredging company that had done repair work to piers on the Chicago River initiated a federal lawsuit to limit its liability for flooding in Chicago that allegedly resulted from faulty repair work performed by company employees.  The city of Chicago and a flood victim argued that the suit should not be permitted in federal court because federal maritime law did not cover the type of work involved in the case.  A 5-4 majority of the Supreme Court agreed with Judge Roberts, who had argued on behalf of the dredging company that the work did fall within federal maritime jurisdiction and the suit should therefore be permitted under federal law.

Digital Equipment Corp. v. Desktop Direct, Inc., 511 U.S. 863 (1994).
Judge John Roberts argued on behalf of Digital Equipment Corp. that his client was entitled to an immediate appeal of a trial court’s order setting aside a settlement agreement that permitted a case to go to trial.  A unanimous Supreme Court disagreed with Judge Roberts and held that the trial court’s decision to refuse to enforce a settlement agreement could not be appealed.

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Judge Roberts has served as a federal judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit since 2003.  During his tenure he authored 49 opinions on cases that came before his court—opinions where he agreed with the majority of judges hearing a case, and opinions expressing his disagreement (called dissents). The ideas and language of his opinions may reveal his beliefs about important issues, and provide clues about how he might rule as a Supreme Court Justice.

The New York Times presents a full list of Judge Roberts' judicial opinions with links to their full text here.

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