By siding with the White House on health care reform, by turning a “mandate” into a “tax,” U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts may have just done more than any single individual to help Barack Obama to a second term as president.
The irony is that as a wet-behind-the-ears U.S. senator in 2005, Obama voted against confirming Roberts’ nomination by President George W. Bush to the high court. In “The Bridge,” an Obama biography, New Yorker magazine editor David Remnick says that Obama, determined to make a splash in Washington as a different kind of Democrat, gave serious thought to voting for Roberts.
But Obama was persuaded that it would hurt him, should he aspire to higher office. From Obama’s speech on the topic, via Obamaspeeches.com:
[T]he decision with respect to Judge Roberts’ nomination has not been an easy one for me to make. As some of you know, I have not only argued cases before appellate courts but for 10 years was a member of the University of Chicago Law School faculty and taught courses in constitutional law. Part of the culture of the University of Chicago Law School faculty is to maintain a sense of collegiality between those people who hold different views. What engenders respect is not the particular outcome that a legal scholar arrives at but, rather, the intellectual rigor and honesty with which he or she arrives at a decision.
Given that background, I am sorely tempted to vote for Judge Roberts based on my study of his resume, his conduct during the hearings, and a conversation I had with him yesterday afternoon.
There is absolutely no doubt in my mind Judge Roberts is qualified to sit on the highest court in the land. Moreover, he seems to have the comportment and the temperament that makes for a good judge. He is humble, he is personally decent, and he appears to be respectful of different points of view. It is absolutely clear to me that Judge Roberts truly loves the law.
He couldn’t have achieved his excellent record as an advocate before the Supreme Court without that passion for the law, and it became apparent to me in our conversation that he does, in fact, deeply respect the basic precepts that go into deciding 95 percent of the cases that come before the Federal court — adherence to precedence, a certain modesty in reading statutes and constitutional text, a respect for procedural regularity, and an impartiality in presiding over the adversarial system. All of these characteristics make me want to vote for Judge Roberts….
The problem I face — a problem that has been voiced by some of my other colleagues, both those who are voting for Mr. Roberts and those who are voting against Mr. Roberts — is that while adherence to legal precedent and rules of statutory or constitutional construction will dispose of 95 percent of the cases that come before a court, so that both a Scalia and a Ginsburg will arrive at the same place most of the time on those 95 percent of the cases — what matters on the Supreme Court is those 5 percent of cases that are truly difficult….
The problem I had is that when I examined Judge Roberts’ record and history of public service, it is my personal estimation that he has far more often used his formidable skills on behalf of the strong in opposition to the weak. In his work in the White House and the Solicitor General’s Office, he seemed to have consistently sided with those who were dismissive of efforts to eradicate the remnants of racial discrimination in our political process. In these same positions, he seemed dismissive of the concerns that it is harder to make it in this world and in this economy when you are a woman rather than a man.
I want to take Judge Roberts at his word that he doesn’t like bullies and he sees the law and the Court as a means of evening the playing field between the strong and the weak.
Obama is scheduled to make some remarks on the Supreme Court decision later this afternoon. One question is whether they will include any adjustment in his opinion of Roberts.
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider