Weeks ago, it was thought, John G. Roberts Jr. did not wield much power while serving as a White House lawyer in the Reagan administration. His official title was special assistant to the attorney general, William French Smith. Surely, all his work was done on behalf of his superiors. He, as a subordinate had little authority. However, since early, this week, when the Reagan Library released some 5,400 pages of Roberts wrings, we discover that the earlier notion was in error. John G. Roberts Jr. was actually quite an influential force. Roberts served as a judge, not merely a legal advisor while working with the Reagan administration.
Roberts adjudicated who could see President Ronald Reagan. He decided when the President was available, where he would appear, and under what circumstances. Roberts mission was to protect the President from his friends. Roberts worked to ensure that the actor-President would not promote commercial ventures. Roberts’ role was to save the President from himself. There was an accepted fear the Commander-and-Chief word harm himself if he spoke spontaneously; who knew what his words might cause.
There are those that say these newly released pages do not provide insight into “who” the man behind the robes might be. However, I disagree. I think Roberts reveals much in his directives. His writings expose his personal belief in a caste system. Roberts writing show that he thinks it vital to designate roles; people have societal stations. He offers snobbery and arrogance. He sees generous gestures as dubious.
In 1983, the famous and highly favored President received a request from his longtime friend, performer Jimmy Stewart. Stewart was often identified as “everyman.” He chose roles that people could relate to. It was said that James Maitland Stewart was beloved for his average guy persona. It was said; Stewart did not put on airs. However, where John Roberts was concerned, it may have been better if he had.
In a written correspondence, Mr. Stewart invited his chum, Ronny Reagan to serve on the advisory board for his son’s prep school. Reagan did not receive and respond to the request directly, it went through channels. Roberts penned his advised response. In a curtly worded memorandum, the attorney said, the president “should not accept Stewart’s invitation.” He stated it would be “demeaning to the [President’s] office, using it as a huckster’s ploy.” John Roberts did not consider taking the position might be viewed as a benevolent gesture. He only thought it suspicious. Reagan did not accept the offer.
On another occasion, Nancy and Ron were invited to an elegant social affair, a dinner. Affluent Republicans from Dallas were hosting the event; it would be held in conjunction with a ceremonial ribbon cutting. Roberts advised against attendance; he thought the entire gala undignified. The dinner, though separate, was connected in spirit, to the grand opening of a shopping mall. Roberts, thought malls the setting for common folk; Presidents could not be seen in, or associated with shopping center owners. That would be below him.
In 1985, Jerry Weintraub, chief executive of United Artists entertained a notion; he was hoping to have well known actor-director Sylvester Stallone personally present fellow and former actor, Ronald Reagan with the boxing gloves and robe worn in the newly released motion picture film “Rocky IV.” Later, the gifts would be placed in the nations’ most prestigious museum, the Smithsonian Institution.
However, Roberts thought this unwise. Just as in earlier years, Roberts showed himself an elitist snob. The film industry he thought to be merely a commercial venture; that this industry gave his hero a start mattered not. In a communication addressed to his superior, White House Counsel Fred Fielding, Roberts wrote, the president should decline the offer. It “is a rather transparent publicity stunt to promote the film.”
When, in 1984, a publicist for pop-star Michael Jackson proposed Reagan publicly thank the musician for giving concert tickets to needy youngsters, Roberts raise objections, again. “I hate to sound like one of Mr. Jackson’s records, constantly repeating the same refrain, but I recommend we do not approve this letter.” Promoting a star in any manner was loathsome to a man such as Roberts. That Jackson man might have done a noble act was unthinkable. Even if he had, a dignified man such as Ronald Reagan, President of the United States of America need not acknowledge it.
John G. Roberts cared not whether President Reagan thought, he might want to attend an event, sponsor a cause, or help a friend; Roberts thought himself the better judge of what was right.
Ronald Reagan had advocated for Americans to support Nicaraguan expatriates. A group of corporate executives did. These entrepreneurs asked the President to speak to their group in 1985, and likely, he would have if left to his own devices.
However, the “judge” stopped this from happening. Roberts wrote his warning; he stated “I recommend stopping any White House involvement in this effort,” Roberts advised the president should not participate in private fundraising. Raising capital was for the unabashed. It was a shameless and brazen venture, certainly not worthy of a President.
Roberts did not only express disdain for acts of public promotion; he scorned the rights of women professionally. This topic will be addressed in a separate study. As a prelude, please read Nominee’s Memos Critical of Gender-Equality Efforts, by David G. Savage, of the Los Angeles Times. You might also peruse, As Reagan lawyer, Roberts disparaged efforts to combat discrimination against women, by David Esposo, of The Associated Press.
John G. Roberts’ did not merely advise the President on his social calendar. Roberts monitored Reagan’s speech.
In 1984, Ronny was set to speak. He was prepared to conclude his monologue with the words, “the greatest nation God ever created.” Roberts rejected the phrase, not on legal grounds, instead on religious “rights.” Legal advisor Roberts offered, these words would be “ill-advised and, particularly in the light of the focus on the religion and politics issue, a likely candidate for the ‘Reaganism of the Week.’ “Roberts reeled with authority, “According to Genesis, God creates things like the heavens and the earth, and the birds and fishes, but not nations.”
John G. Roberts was a Reagan man; he watched his back, front, and supported his ideology. For me, these Reagan files say much of the man, his morals, and personal beliefs. Roberts, I think, said it all in his letter of resignation. The jurist wrote to his hero Ronald Regan, “My years in your service will always be very special to me. The inspiration you have given me will burn brightly in my heart long after I have left the lights of the White House behind.”
If the Senate wants to know if Judge John G. Roberts is an ideologue, after reviewing his writings during the Reagan years, they can know with certainty, he is. His moral commitment and personal opinions are reflected loudly in these writings. Clearly, Roberts concludes, there is a “right” way, and a wrong one. There is a ruling class and a group of commoners; those in one must never meet or mingle with the other. I believe Roberts is as Roberts does, and that, for me, is frightening.
If you prefer to read periodical references directly, please read . . .
Nominee’s Memos Critical of Gender-Equality Efforts, By David G. Savage, of the Los Angeles Times.
Files Detail Roberts’s Reagan Years, By Jess Bravin and Jeanne Cummings, of the Wall Street Journal.
Reagan Files Paint Court Nominee as a Watchdog By David G. Savage, Richard Simon and Henry Weinstein, of the Los Angeles Times.
White House required prolific pen, By Michael Martinez and Vincent J. Schodolski, of The Chicago Tribune.
You might enjoy reading more. Brad DeLong writes on, John Roberts’s Judicial Temperament