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Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The Roberts Hearings

I watched a good portion of yesterday's hearings on C-Span last night. I have to say Roberts very much impressed me. He not only seemed to have the demeanor that I look for in a good judge (modesty about his own policy preferences) but a very strong understanding of the law, precedent and how to correctly judge matters. He explained in very clear terms how one crafts a judgement and the difficulties of balancing differing claims of rights and of applying correct precedent. Basically it was a great way to learn more about Constitutional law. The explanations he gave of why he wouldn't answer certain questions 'the Ginsburg Rule' as it is called, also made pretty good sense to me. The performance of the Senators was considerably less enjoyable. First off, it was patently obvious that they all, Republican and Democrat alike, love to hear themselves speak. Many seemed to regret that they had to give some of their time to Roberts to respond at all (Biden even accussed Roberts of filibustering ironically enough.) Between their bloviating lectures on the law, that in my mind were often very poorly constructed, and the need to preen their pet causes for the most part they simply wasted our time. A few asked good questions, but even the best took their sweet time getting to them. I won't even get into the fact that they felt a need to ask questions that Roberts had already fully answered. I think that the forum is fundamentally flawed. Senators on the panel are asked to be the judges and the prosecutors (or the defense) simultaneously. This makes for a pretty inefficient, and less illuminating, process than is needed. It occurred to me that a better mechanism for this might be something similar to the impeachment process, where the House gathers and presents the evidence from their parties perspectives. That said, I don't think that the process if fatally flawed and in desperate need of change, merely that it is mostly stupid. I think we did gain a pretty clear insite into Judge Roberts judicial views. I don't think he is a 'conservative' judge or a 'liberal' judge. I think he is a 'lawyers' judge. It seemed pretty clear to me that precident, rule of law, and intent were all far more important to him than any ideology. This probably means that, at least in the immediate future, he will be pretty predictable and unlikely to craft judgements that or outside of established norms. This means no overturning of Roe v. Wade or Raich or Kelso, which conservatives will hate. It also means he is unlikely to support radical reinterpretation as well though (I strongly doubt he would find a 'right to marry' in the Constitution for example.) Over time, especially as Chief Justice, their is some danger that the moderate and modest approach will errode, and he will come to enjoy the power of crafting precident himself. I would be surprised if that were to occur in this case though. Roberts seems to regard the rule of law as a desirable end in and of itself and not just a means to an end. There were a few times when he spoke of the law, and his passion for it when this was extremely clear. That isn't a bad attitude for a judge to have.


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