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Hail to the Chief Justice

Terry Eastland has a fascinating piece at The Weekly Standard about the success of Chief Justice John Roberts. Although he's only been in his seat for short time, he's had quite an impact:

JOHN ROBERTS HAS SAT IN the center seat of the Supreme Court a mere five months. Conventional wisdom holds that it takes four or five years for a new justice to hit his stride. Even so, Roberts's work stands out in a Washington whose daily manufacture, it seems, is another fight between an irresponsible Congress and a president with cratering job-approval numbers. If you want to see excellence in government, consider the brief tenure of our new chief justice.


Under Roberts the Court has decided 39 cases. Roberts himself has written three opinions. Each was unanimous, the most recent being last week's opinion upholding the access of military recruiters to college campuses (elsewhere in this issue). Each is well-written. Concision and clarity distinguish the opinions. Sentences do not wander about, nor fatten from authorial pomposity. Arguments are fairly addressed, distinctions cleanly drawn, decisions plainly stated. Nor has Roberts retired the dry humor on display during his hearings. The chief justice, and not his clerks, is clearly in charge of his own prose. Finally, and not a small point: His opinions are enormously persuasive.

With Chief Justice Roberts writing his own coherent, persuasive opinions, the other justices may find themselves pressured to do the same rather than relying so much on their clerks.

What's particularly interesting is that Roberts has been using conference time to actually discuss the cases in front of the court rather than to just call for a vote:

Justices Stevens and Scalia have both complained over the years about the conferences held on the Fridays of weeks with oral arguments. It is then that the justices at least tentatively decide cases, and yet under Rehnquist the justices typically did little more than declare their votes. For Roberts to invite discussion means that Roberts himself has to come to the conference table fully prepared. That's not hard to imagine. But the other justices have to come prepared as well, or risk embarrassment.

I thought these kinds of discussions were what normally took place. I pictured in my mind the members of the highest court in the land discussing the Constitution and how it applies to the cases that come before them. It's amazing this wasn't happening all along.

Finally, Terry ends with a prediction:

Over time, the Roberts effect may produce not only larger majorities and more stable rulings but also a Court that, thanks to conferences that really are conferences, pays more attention to working out the relevant law and less to mere politics. The distinction between law and politics is, of course, precisely what Roberts (and Samuel Alito) insisted upon during their confirmation hearings, and it lies at the heart of judicial conservatism. The prospect of the continuing advancement of that philosophy is a happy one, and a reason to say hail to this particular chief.

Chief Justice Roberts is living up the the hype. He's exactly what we knew the Supreme Court needed.


Comments (5)

Hmmm.Let's hope th... (Below threshold)
ed:

Hmmm.

Let's hope that diversity in higher education is brought before the court again.

Overturning Kelo and not av... (Below threshold)
bryanD:

Overturning Kelo and not avoiding it would be nice. Of course I don't know exactly how things are put on the docket. Pre-emptive assurances that the votes aren't there yet concerning Roe shouldn't prevent another hearing. I understand the original complaint was invalidated. Until then, the panegyrics from the neo-con courtiers comparing favorably the new chief justice to the old man who put stripes on his judicial robe in homage to "The Mikado", aren't that impressive. And extra credit for doing his job?

I think given what we are s... (Below threshold)
just me:

I think given what we are seeing so far, it is a good thing that Roberts ended up replacing Rehnquist instead of O'Connor.

Roberts appears to be a strong leader, and the kind needed to depoliticize the court as much as possible.

bryan, things are not put o... (Below threshold)

bryan, things are not put on the docket just because the chief decides it's time to review an old ruling. In the case of Kelo, given the widespread backlash that has occurred, I would think it will be some time before any municipality has the fortitude to follow in New London's footsteps and take someone's residence for "economic development." But the issue of whether or not "economic development" is a valid public use under the 5th Amdt. will surely rise again. Re: Roe, I don't think that the South Dakota ban will make it to the Court, despite the transparent designs of its supporters. Cases make it to SCOTUS when they present some novel issue or when the Circuits are in disagreement and there is a need for clarity and consistency. If thh the 8th Circuit does something unusual, like uphold the law (which appears to be inconsistent with precedent), then SCOTUS would have a reason to review it. Here is what the pro-life folks have to say about the chance of a SCOTUS review:

"If you're just reading the law as it stands now, South Dakota's law doesn't really stand any chance under Roe or Casey . I have to agree with those who think it's remote," said Chuck Donovan, executive vice president of the Family Research Council and a former lobbyist for the National Right to Life Committee.

If the 8th Cir. strikes the law down (and it is a relatively conservative circuit court), SCOTUS would probably decline to hear the case, because there is no inconsistency between the decision and precedent.

I think the SDak politicians over-reached a bit in their plan -- the goal should have been to present something to the federal court that goes beyond currently sanctioned restrictions but could be upheld by the lower courts.

There's also the not so tin... (Below threshold)

There's also the not so tiny matter of the rule of four. By custom, it takes four justices to determine whether to hear a case - the rule of four. Thus, Roberts alone does not determine the cases that are heard.




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