Chief Justice Roberts on the SOTU speech
U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts said Tuesday the scene at President Obama's State of the Union address was "very troubling" and the annual speech has "degenerated to a political pep rally."
[Anyone who watched the SOTU speech should have been concerned when the president basically called out the high court in his speech. And the SOTU speech has pretty much become a political pep rally, at least when it comes to Democrats. When President Bush delivered his remarks, he did what the president is supposed to do -- give the nation and the Congress a report card, of sorts, as to the state of the nation.]
Obama chided the court, with the justices seated before him in their black robes, for its decision on a campaign finance case.
Responding to a University of Alabama law student's question, Roberts said anyone was free to criticize the court, and some have an obligation to do so because of their positions.
"So I have no problems with that," he said. "On the other hand, there is the issue of the setting, the circumstances and the decorum.
[Bingo. The SOTU speech is hardly the setting to criticize the high court. Bush didn't do that, even when his administration were dealt setbacks by the justices in several cases. The detainee cases -- Hamdi, Hamdan, Boumediene, Rasul, et al. -- are a prime example of areas where President Bush could have leveled criticism at them, and didn't do it. Instead, he focused Congress on the task of abiding by their decision. (When the court ruled that the Congress didn't create the military tribunals, and that Bush couldn't moved forward on them, he tasked Congress to create them.)]
"The image of having the members of one branch of government standing up, literally surrounding the Supreme Court, cheering and hollering while the court — according the requirements of protocol — has to sit there expressionless, I think is very troubling."
Breaking from tradition, Obama criticized the court's decision that allows corporations and unions to freely spend money to run political ads for or against specific candidates.
"With all due deference to the separation of powers the Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign corporations — to spend without limit in our elections," Obama said in January.
Justice Samuel Alito was the only justice to respond at the time, shaking his head and mouthing the words "not true" as Obama continued.
Roberts told the students he wonders whether justices should attend the speeches.
"I'm not sure why we're there," said Roberts, a Republican nominee who joined the court in 2005.
Justice Antonin Scalia once said he no longer goes to the annual speech because the justices "sit there like bumps on a log" in an otherwise highly partisan atmosphere. Six of the nine justices attended Obama's address.
[Justice Scalia has the right idea. The Supreme Court need not attend any session of Congress, save the impeachment trial of the President of the United States, and that applies to the Chief Justice alone. (Article I, Section 3, Clause six.)]
Roberts opened his appearance in Alabama with a 30-minute lecture on the history of the Supreme Court and became animated as he answered students' questions. He joked about a recent rumor that he was stepping down from the court and said he didn't know he wanted to be a lawyer until he was in law school.
Asked about the Senate's method of confirming new justices, Roberts said senators improperly try to make political points by asking questions they know nominees can't answer because of the limitations of judicial ethic rules.
"I think the process is broken down," said Roberts.
In a way the process for confirmation is broken. The senators aren't supposed to apply any sort of litmus test on nominated jurists, but they do all the time. Just look at their questioning regarding settled jurisprudence on issues like abortion and privacy for examples of that. There were even veiled questions to Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito regarding their religious beliefs (they're both Catholic), and whether they could keep those beliefs separate from their duty as a justice. That is out of bounds, and those questions were designed to bring doubt into the minds of other senators.
The confirmation process is supposed to be simple. All the Senate is supposed to do is determine whether the nominee is competent and capable of carrying out the job they've been nominated for. But the process has become so politicized that most nominees -- be it for the judiciary or other office -- are subjected to a gaggle of egotistical, pontificating, self-centered senators and a three-ring circus from the media. The process really does need to be changed.
What is interesting about this is the fact that Chief Justice Roberts actually spoke out about attending the speech. I have friends who claim that the Supreme Court is "afraid" to challenge the president; that they fear if they do so that the media and Democrats will paint them as being racist. That's nonsense. The high court has tackled issues dealing with minorities before. They delivered a serious blow to campaign finance laws with their decision for Citizens United. They have heard oral arguments in McDonald v. Chicago. That case will determine whether or not the 2nd Amendment rights are incorporated in the 14th Amendment, thereby limiting the gun regulations that states and cities can enact. Does anyone think Barry's not unhappy with that? Barry's vehemently anti-2nd Amendment, and has a clear record on that issue as a state senator in Illinois.
The Supreme Court isn't afraid of him. Chief Justice John Roberts isn't afraid of him. But they can't just jump in on every contentious issue that is enacted by him and the Democrats in Congress. There's a process that must be followed in appealing to the high court. If you don't think there have been appeals to them on certain issues, think again. (And I'm talking about more pertinent issues than the conspiracy theory surrounding the president's birth certificate and citizenship; an issue that really does need to die. Those who cling to that misnomer are no different than those who claim that Bush didn't win the election in 2000.)
I'm always interested to read and hear about the justices on the Supreme Court, and as Chief Justice Roberts doesn't speak out often it's interesting to catch him when he does.