September 22, 2005

John Roberts

A court is a place where what was confused before becomes more unsettled than ever.

Henry Waldorf Francis

I turned on my car radio to our local PBS station to find a broadcast of the hearing that is preceding the confirmation of John Roberts as chief justice of the supreme court. Since all that has to be done to broadcast the hearings is to make sure that the microphones are working, the people who work for the network can go out and play golf, or whatever they play. I put a music CD into my radio.

Unless Roberts goes on a shooting rampage or murders his wife, he will be the next chief justice. What will he do as head of the court? I doubt that even he knows what he will do. For sure, no one else does.

Many lawyer-politicians figure that being a supreme court justice is not only an honor, but it is the cushiest job in the law business. And it is for life. He can concentrate on the law and pretty much forget the politics. The worst thing that could happen to him is hemorrhoids, since he will be doing a lot of sitting.

The most famous chief supreme court justice in my time was Earl Warren. His court is famous for the decision that schools that are segregated by race cannot possibly be equal even if every effort is made to make them equal. It overturned a previous decision that ruled that segregation was okay as long as the schools were equal. President Dwight Eisenhower said something to the effect that he wished that he had never appointed Warren to the job. The Warren court caused him a hellovalot of trouble. In many ways, that court decision was a trigger for the civil rights movement. I have read that the other justices usually went along with whatever Warren wanted. The Warren commission also investigated the assassination of president John Kennedy.

Who was Earl Warren? He was a professional politician and one of the best. He understood politics. He started the major part of his career as district attorney for Alameda county. Someone once described him as a union-busting DA. From there, he went on to become governor of California. He is given a good deal of the credit for building the University of California as well as being one the few governors who ended his administration with a financial surplus. In other words, he was the last person in the world that you would expect to lead a liberal social revolution as chief justice. Harry Truman described him as a Democrat, even though Warren was a life-long Republican.

So what can be expected of John Roberts? I don't have the faintest idea and I don't believe that anyone else does, including the man who nominated him. Senators can try to predict what he will do as chief justice. Their predictions are as accurate as those of a not very bright child.

The only things that should be obvious are that he is very intelligent; knows when to talk and when to shut up. He is skilled at both law and politics. All that I can say is that I never saw a photo of Warren when he was smiling, nor have I seen many photos of Roberts when he wasn't smiling.

What will Roberts do? We will just have to wait and see. Odds are in favor of his keeping the job, for a very long time. As the old saying goes, only God knows what Roberts will do and he won't tell.

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