The blogosphere is abuzz over the news that Judge John Roberts, President Bush’s nominee for the Supreme Court, played an active pro bono role in assisting the lawyers who argued Romer v. Evans, the 1996 Colorado “Amendment 2” case to the Supreme Court. The case was a landmark decision for gay rights. Colorado voters had passed an initiative (Amendment 2) that would have allowed employers and landlords to discriminate against gays. The Supreme Court struck it down. Justice Scalia dissented.

Roberts’ participation in the case is noteworthy because:

  • it’s the only gay rights case he has ever participated in
  • he’s been described as a conservative
  • he didn’t disclose it on his Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire

The Los Angeles Times reports that former Colorado Supreme Court Justice Jean Dubofsky, who argued the case, has nothing but praise for Judge Roberts:

Jean Dubofsky, lead lawyer for the gay rights activists and a former Colorado Supreme Court justice, said that when she came to Washington to prepare for the U.S. Supreme Court presentation, she immediately was referred to Roberts.

“Everybody said Roberts was one of the people I should talk to,” Dubofsky said. “He has a better idea on how to make an effective argument to a court that is pretty conservative and hasn’t been very receptive to gay rights.”

….She said Roberts served on a moot court panel as she prepared for oral arguments, with Roberts taking the role of a Scalia-like justice to pepper her with tough questions. ….”John Roberts was just terrifically helpful in meeting with me and spending some time on the issue,” she said. “He seemed to be very fair-minded and very astute.”

I think Judge Roberts’ participation goes in the plus column. The case came into his firm, Hogan & Hartson, as a pro-bono matter. The firm’s partner in charge of pro-bono cases asked him to help. He did, and it appears he gave the client his best efforts.

There would be a story here if Judge Roberts had refused his partner’s request because of his conservative ideology. He didn’t. That goes to his credit.