July 21, 2005--President Bush nominated John Roberts to the U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday, potentially making Roberts the first justice with practical experience in business law to be appointed to the high court since Gerald Ford nominated John Paul Stevens. But despite his corporate credentials, the impact Roberts might have on small businesses is uncertain.
During his career, first as a lawyer for the Washington, D.C.-based law firm, Hogan & Hartson, and most recently as district court judge, Roberts has not always expressed opinions consistent with the views of business lobbyists. He argued on behalf of state attorney generals for the break up of Microsoft, but also helped Toyota win a Supreme Court decision against an employee with carpal tunnel syndrome who wanted to be classified as disabled.
Regardless, Roberts' experience in business law will likely have little impact during Senate confirmation hearings in comparison with hot button social issues like abortion and religion. This has made small business lobby groups like the National Federation of Independent Business hesitant to join the fray. Among small business owners, "there is a diversity of opinion on a lot of these issues," said NFIB spokesman Michael Donohue. "Our members don't expect us to get involved on these issues and we don't."
While it is difficult to say whether Roberts will be a "pro-business" justice, his experience in civil litigation will be ultimately good for business owners, said Michael Greve, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. "There are hundreds of business disputes out there and the Supreme Court has not taken them," Greve said. "You can't have a modern business society if you don't have clarity and reliability. He recognizes that, and that is that's how he thinks. That is in the long term interest of business."