John G. Roberts Jr. could have easily ignored the letter from E. F. W. Wildermuth that came across his desk in December 1982. The correspondent, an octogenarian lawyer from New York, made an obscure procedural point about the Senate's jurisdiction based on his interpretation of the 17th Amendment; it was not the sort of question that would typically require serious attention from the White House counsel's office, where Mr. Roberts worked at the time.There is much more and it is worth the read. Part of the interesting tone of the article is the near assumption of Roberts' confirmation. If he doesn't make it, perhaps he would be willing to help this blog with proof reading.
But rather than dismiss the letter as the work of a curmudgeon, Mr. Roberts seized on it with delight.
Acknowledging that the White House usually ignored such mail, he wrote to his superior, Fred F. Fielding, the White House counsel, "Anyone who can quote inspiring passages from Plato and Webster, however, and use a word like 'slumgullion,' deserves a reply, and I have drafted one for your signature."
"Slumgullion" being, for the record, a thin stew.
It was a typical remark from a legal scholar who is said to have never lost a local spelling bee as a child and who once wrote an entire White House memorandum in French. In fact, an obsession with rhetorical precision is a central Roberts trait, said friends and former colleagues of the man nominated by President Bush to become a Supreme Court justice.
A cheerfully ruthless copy editor over the years, Judge Roberts has demanded verbal rigor from his colleagues and subordinates, refusing to tolerate the slightest grammatical slip, and boasting an exceptional vocabulary and command of literature himself.
In a memorandum the next year, responding to a letter from David T. Willard, an elementary school superintendent in Illinois who opposed the administration's education policies, Mr. Roberts again concluded that no legal issues needed to be addressed by the White House counsel. But he took the opportunity to note, "The letter is very sarcastic, although Willard inadvertently proves our point about the quality of public education by incorrectly using 'affect' for 'effect.' "