US CHIEF JUSTICE JOHN ROBERTS: COURT NOT THE PLACE FOR POLITICS
BOSTON (ChurchMilitant.com) – Chief Justice John Roberts is lamenting the politicization of the Supreme Court. In a talk given at New England Law School Wednesday, the Catholic head of the High Court clarified that judges “don’t work as Republicans or Democrats.”
The heated judicial confirmation hearings are especially bad for the Court, Roberts said, as they give the public the impression that it’s politics and not the impartial application of the law that matters.
“When you have a sharply political, divisive hearing process,” he said, “it increases the danger that whoever comes out of it will be viewed in those terms.”
“If the Democrats and Republicans have been fighting so fiercely about whether you’re going to be confirmed, it’s natural for some member of the public to think, ‘Well, you must be identified in a particular way as a result of that process,'” he continued.
The first heated confirmation battle took place in 1987, when Judge Robert Bork was nominated by President Ronald Reagan to a seat on the Supreme Court. A known conservative, Democrats in the Senate Judiciary Committee strongly opposed Bork. Senator Ted Kennedy took to the floor within an hour of the start of the hearings and gave a speech denouncing the nominee.
Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of the Government, and the doors of the Federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens.
The claims were false — but it would be a talk that would cause Bork to lose the nomination and tarnish his otherwise upstanding reputation for the rest of his life. The confirmation hearings were so notorious that a verb was created from his name to indicate an individual smeared by the political machine: “borked.”
The 1973 Roe v. Wade case legalizing abortion in all 50 states is largely blamed for the polarization in the confirmation process, as the case — which even pro-abortion jurists admit was a ruling based more on politics than the Constitution — wrested the question from the democratic process and placed it in the hands of nine unelected judges. Since then, the public no longer thinks of politics as confined to the legislature or executive branches; now the judiciary, in their minds, is swayed by politics as well.
Addressing this misconception, Roberts insisted, “When we issue a decision, it’s usually discussed as ‘Oh, you’re in favor of this,’ or ‘You’re in favor of that,'” he said. “In fact, a ruling often is that whoever does get to decide this or that is allowed to do it and it’s not unconstitutional, it’s consistent with law.”
“But we often have no policy view on the matter at all,” he clarified.
He went on to criticize the politicization of the confirmation process, which he believes “is being used for something other than ensuring the qualifications of the nominees. It’s a process now where the members of the committee frequently ask questions they know it would be inappropriate for us to answer.”
Roberts has puzzled Catholics and non-Catholics alike since his appointment to the High Court 11 years ago, offering at times unexpected and seemingly contradictory rulings. He gave a hint of his later track record during his Senate confirmation hearings in 2005: When the panel asked about his approach to constitutional interpretation, Roberts replied simply, “[It’s] my job to call balls and strikes, and not to pitch or bat.”
He went on to elaborate his belief in the necessity of federal judges to respect the limits of their authority and not overstep their bounds, making policy when that role is properly reserved to the Legislature.
The Supreme Court has, throughout its history, on many occasions described the deference that is due to legislative judgments. …
The determination of when deference to legislative policy judgments goes too far and becomes abdication of the judicial responsibility … is properly called judicial activism; that is certainly the central dilemma of having an unelected … undemocratic judiciary in a democratic republic.
Not all Catholics agree on Roberts’ judicial philosophy, but Roberts himself is personally known to be a devout Catholic, who follows Church teaching with regard to abortion and contraception, among other things. His wife, Jane Sullivan Roberts, was formerly counsel for the group Feminists for Life — a fact raised by Democrats during Roberts’ judicial confirmation hearings. The Roberts have two adopted children — a choice they made in conformity with Church teaching that in vitro fertilization is morally wrong and not an option for faithful Catholics.
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