Thoughts On SOTU Snafu

Chief Justice Roberts, institutional defender in chief

In your blogger’s view, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.’s comments about the decorum (or lack of) at the State of the Union address are pretty much in keeping with his normal line on the Supreme Court’s role. Far from picking a fight with the White House, he was defending the institution he represents. Roberts is conservative in both sense of the word, so the traditions that regulate how the justices interact with society are important to him. In that light, what Roberts said about the role of the court in his recent C-Span interview is worth reading:

“The most important thing for the public to understand is that we are not a political branch of government. They don’t elect us. If they don’t like what we are doing it’s more or less too bad. They need to understand when we reach a decision it’s based on the law, not on a policy preference.”

People may differ on whether this is a heartfelt stance or disingenuous spin, but what is undisputed is that justices are limited in what they can say in response to criticisms, so it’s not really in their interests to pick a fight. There’s also little they can do to stop political attacks and Roberts’ remarks aren’t likely to have that effect. In fact, he clearly stated that it’s perfectly fine for elected officials and the public to criticize rulings. It’s the where and when that irks him.

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