Tuesday, September 13, 2005

John Roberts cleverly deflects scrutiny...

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I have been impressed by John Roberts via what I've been able to enjoy of the hearing via the wonders of C-Span. He's bright, amiable, and deeply thoughtful, with an apparently balanced perspective. The fundamental position he has taken... to be an open minded, objective, and independent enforcer of the Constitution... is especially appealing at a time of such deep ideological and partisan divisions.

But, a couple of things have given me pause.

The first, trivially, has been the excruciating, vomit inducing, lecherous flattery of Senator Sessions... ughhhh! What a smug, self satisfied, party goon, ironically employing none of the adept political skills that Roberts has slickly demonstrated throughout the proceedings.

The second problem I have is the sporting analogy Roberts used in his statement on Monday: "Justices are like Umpires..." he remarked, "I will remember it is my job to call balls and strikes, and not to pitch or bat."

Evocatively put and certainly worthy of a News Soundbite... but the role of the Supreme Court isn't simply to enforce the constitution, independent of the other branches of government, as important as that role is. It is also its role to ultimately interpret the constitution... for justices to apply their faculties and perspective to cases, laws, and precedents, and their relevance. It's this degree of interpretation and personal perspetive, no matter how small, that is inherently subjective and deserving of serious scrutiny. I mean... doesn't it defeat the whole purpose of these hearings for Roberts to fundamentally define himself as someone who will objectively uphold the constituion... as if that precludes scrutiny of the way in which he subjectively interprets law?

What frustrates me is that nobody has been able to scythe through this political posturing and get to the heart of the matter... these hearings should provide an explicit demonstration, in the most general terms, of the type of Justice that Roberts will be... and I don't think that is taking place.

There are some other smaller niggles that I have. Does Roberts really have the seniority and experience to be Chief Justice? I am not familiar enough with the role of Chief Justice and its history to have a real sense of the required qualities, but Rehnquist struck me as someone who asserted himself in the position and led the court. By comparison it seems like Roberts' age and good health is more of a factor than his ability to lead. In fact, thus far, I haven't detected any leadership qualities in Roberts at all... is there a reason why nobody is challenging this?

And then Dianne Feinstein's probing questions about the role of Church and State, quoting JFK as regards the "absolute Separation..."

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Roberts seemed to take issue with the word "absolute" citing the complexity of recent Supreme Court rulings. But, when Feinstein expressed the history and importance of the law, the affection for its role in building the type of society that America is, and that these factors were the intended result of what the founders tried to accomplish, Roberts sharply countered. He stated that those who originally came to the US were fleeing religious persecution, and that this ultimately informed that element of the constitution. The two statements aren't really even mutually exclusive, but Roberts actively sought to disagree with Feinstein's attempts to laud "separation," which I found to be a little disconcerting.

I'm not saying that any particular point of view on Church and State might discredit him, and for sure, whatever is discussed should never compromise cases he might hear in the future... but in that brief exchange with Senator Feinstein, Roberts identified why the role of an "Umpire" is more complex than his analogy of "calling balls and strikes." I just wish we didn't have to depend upon such ambigious speculative inferences to have an idea of where John Roberts really stands on these issues. I wish, via some kind of mechanism, this process of confirmation wasn't such a blind act of faith. I mean... what is the point of having hearings at all? As things stand everyone might as well just sit around and give a speech in turn. The dialogue is redundant.

Right now, I don't see any basis upon which Roberts shouldn't be confirmed. I agree with the "Gang of 14" that President Bush has earned his nominations to the Supreme Court via election victories, and only the most extreme of circumstances should deny him this. No extreme circumstances have arisen as of yet.

Personally, I just wish we were getting to know the type of Justice Roberts will be a little better. I just wish we weren't witnessing such a polished political display more appropriate of the questioning Senators than a Supreme Court nominee. I just wish Roberts would be more forthcoming and willing to share his perpectives and subjective analysis of law with the American people.

Special mention to Roberts' son, who never fails to bring levity to this esteemed process:

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