Bench Memos

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Interview of the Chief Justice


A follow-up to Matt’s post on Jan Crawford Greenburg’s interview with Chief Justice Roberts:  The transcript of the interview is now available here.  (HT:  How Appealing.)  It’s quite an interesting interview, on matters ranging from the pre-nomination process to Roberts’s time at Harvard to how he sees the role of the Court and his role as Chief.  Some excerpts:


On getting from London to D.C. for the possible nomination:

I had to teach the class Monday morning and got up at 3:30 in the morning London time Tuesday to catch the first flight out of Heathrow….   So I had all my stuff and I’m wandering around the streets of London at 3:30 in the morning trying to get a cab to get back, finally get it, get to Heathrow and go into the terminal, where my plane is, and I’m passing this long line of people and I remember feeling very sorry for them, because they obviously had some difficulty that they were waiting in line and this line snaking around.  And then as I turned right, you know, I noticed the line was turning right, too, and, sure enough, it was my flight that was the problem. All the computers were down, and I got turned around and went back to the end of the line…. [W]e landed and I was going through customs in Dulles and on the Blackberry, I got an urgent message to call the White House right away. And if you’ve been to Dulles, customs, you know, every 10 feet, they have this big sign saying, “If you use a cell phone, it will be confiscated immediately.” So I couldn’t do that.  I couldn’t very well jump out of the line at customs without attracting a lot of attention. But then I finally got through and I called and they said I needed to be home by 12:30 for a phone call….  It was 11:40 exactly and it takes exactly that long to get from Dulles to my house. So I had just enough time. I remember diving into the first cab, yelling out where I needed to go and the cab driver turning around and saying, “This is my first day on the job. Where is this place, Chevy Chase?” But I was yelling directions at him the whole time and I got home at 12:30, threw a bunch of money at him that I think were English pounds. And as I walked in the door, the phone was ringing and it was the call from the White House.

On Harvard:

It was … just barely the post-Vietnam era and I remember there were some demonstrations, really quite sympathetic to the Viet [C]ong, and I remember thinking that wasn’t right, that whatever the merits of the dispute and whether we should be there or not, I didn’t understand celebrations in favor of our enemies. 

On the role of the courts:

Think back to the framers who drafted the Constitution. These were people who literally risked everything to gain the right to govern themselves, certainly risked all their material well-being and risked their lives in the struggle for independence.  And the thought that the first thing they would do when they got around to drafting a Constitution would be to say, ‘Let’s take all the hard issues in our society and let’s turn them over to nine unelected people who aren’t politically accountable and let them decide,’ that would have been the farthest thing from their mind.I have enormous respect for the authority carried by the people across the street in Congress. Hundreds of thousands of people, millions of people have voted for them and put their confidence in their judgment.Not a single person has voted for me and if we don’t like what the people in Congress do, we can get rid of them, and if you don’t like what I do, it’s kind of too bad. And that is, to me, an important constraint. It means that I’m not there to make a judgment based on my personal policy preferences or my political preferences.The only reason I’m protected from those political pressures is because I’m supposed to make a decision based on the law. And so I don’t think it would be a good idea to turn all the hard issues over to the courts. Those hard issues belong in Congress, they belong in the Executive Branch.The courts have the responsibility to make sure both of those branches abide by the legal limits in the Constitution, but that’s it.  



Tags: Whelan


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