Everyone knows that, like all good Republican lawyers, John Roberts Jr. is a member of the Federalist Society, the conservative law and...

WASHINGTON — Everyone knows that, like all good Republican lawyers, John Roberts Jr. is a member of the Federalist Society, the conservative law and public-policy organization where right-of-center types meet to denounce liberalism and angle for jobs in the Bush administration.

And practically everyone — CNN, the Los Angeles Times, Legal Times and The Washington Post, in an account published yesterday in The Seattle Times — has reported Roberts’ membership as a fact. One liberal group opposed to Roberts’ nomination, the Alliance for Justice, has noted it on its Web site.

But they are wrong. John Roberts is not a member of the Federalist Society, and he says he never has been.

“He has no recollection of ever being a member,” said Dana Perino, a White House spokeswoman who contacted reporters to correct the mistake yesterday.

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She said Roberts recalls speaking at Federalist Society forums, as have lawyers and legal scholars of various political stripes. But he has apparently never paid the $50 annual fee that would make him a member. His disclosure forms submitted in connection with his 2003 nomination to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals make no mention of it.

How this urban legend got started is not clear. The issue probably got clouded in part because the Federalist Society’s membership is confidential; individual members must decide whether to acknowledge their affiliation.

Even some conservatives found the story plausible.

“I’m shocked that he is not,” said Richard Samp, chief counsel of the right-of-center Washington Legal Foundation.

Upon reflection, some Federalist Society members conceded they had never seen Roberts at meet-and-greets such as the society’s annual black-tie dinner.

A related question is why Roberts would not want to be a member.

Some conservatives said a Federalist affiliation could only provoke hostile questions from Senate Democrats, so Roberts, in keeping with his low-key approach to conservatism, just steered clear.

“It’s smart from his perspective,” a former Bush administration official said.