John Roberts as an advocate

From a Washington Post profile of Dubya’s nominee for the Supreme Court…

An oft-cited instance of Roberts’s verbal adroitness occurred in a 1993 case. He was trying to convince the court that it was not cruel and unusual punishment for a prison to subject an inmate to exposure to secondhand cigarette smoke. A justice asked if it would be permissible for the prison to subject inmates to asbestos exposure.

It would not, Roberts replied, because “we as a society do not treat exposure to asbestos as a matter of personal preference. When you go to a restaurant, they don’t ask if you want the asbestos section or the non-asbestos section.”

The courtroom erupted in laughter — but Roberts may have been too clever by half. His side lost.