In what seems to be a soft-sell of the Alito nomination, Michael Kinsley argues that his anti-Roe memos should be taken as his providing the President with a legal basis for views the President already held:
The memos gave the appearance of urging the Reagan administration to take a more conservative line on issues such as school prayer and employment discrimination. But White House press secretary Scott McClellan revealed that these were actually Reagan's views already. "I think what those files show is a young White House staffer helping to provide legal analysis in support of the president's agenda, President Reagan's agenda." In other words, Roberts supplied reasons for views Reagan already held. Roberts was just a repairman, fixing views he didn't necessarily own.If he truly believes that, his piece should be titled "Why lawyers are useless" instead of "Why lawyers are liars". Now I will grant that there has been some real hackery in the Bush II White House, with lawyers presenting the most attenuated arguments to defend the indefensible, but those opinions were meant to provide the Bush II administration with plausible deniability when it was caught breaking the law. "Our lawyers said it was okay." It's something else entirely to suggest that a lawyer writing a memo in relation to existing case law should advocate the desired outcome rather than educating his bosses as to the actual state of the law. Kinsley continues,
When do lawyers become free to have their own agenda and say what they really think? Not when they leave the government and enter private practice. Roberts told the Senate Judiciary Committee that "the positions a lawyer presents on behalf of a client should not be ascribed to that lawyer."But there is a big difference between a lawyer's private thoughts and advice to a client, and what a lawyer might do or say when advocating for the client in court. A good lawyer will privately tell the client the state of the law, how to conform to the law, and the risks of trying to skirt a law - including considerations which weigh against what a client wants to do - but in court will present the strongest possible argument on behalf of his client, interpreting the law in the light most favorable to the client. The role of a lawyer who is advising a client is different from that of advocating for the client.
Kinsley reminds me of this lawyer joke:
A businessman was trying to choose a lawyer, but was being very careful about it. He scheduled appointments to interview three lawyers.Kinsley is essentially arguing that the third type of lawyer is the norm and not the exception. Maybe Alito really does place himself in that third category, in which case Kinsley has convinced me that Alito does not belong on the Supreme Court.
At the first lawyer's office, after an initial exchange of pleasantries, the businessman said, "Okay, let's get down to business. I have an important question for you, and I want you to think carefully before answering. How much is two plus two?"
The lawyer raised his eyebrows. "two plus two is four." The businessman thanked him for his time, and proceeded to his next appointment.
The second lawyer, who was also a CPA, seemed a bit more particular than the first lawyer. After an initial discussion, the businessman again announced that he had a very important question, and asked, "How much is two plus two?"
The second lawyer went over to a computer, and entered figures into a spreadsheet. "According to my calculations, two plus two is approximately four." The businessman thanked him for his time, and proceeded to his next appointment.
The third lawyer sat behind a big mahogany desk, and smoked a cigar. He seemed rather self-important as compared to the other two, but at the same time appeared to be much more successful. The businessman again announced, "I would like you to answer a very important question for me, before I decide whether I should use your services. How much is two plus two?"
The lawyer pulled the shades, locked the door to his office, and asked in a hushed voice, "How much do you want it to be?"