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Friday, September 30, 2005


The Roberts Court, Does it Matter?

Thursday marked the dawning of a new court. John Roberts was approved for Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Bush refered to John Roberts as "a man with an astute mind and a kind heart." Roberts, 50, is the youngest chief justice since Justice John Marshall (the author of Maubury v. Madison) who was appointed to the court in 1801. Bush called the conformation process, "a very meaningful event in the life of our nation."
In John Roberts' speach after he took the oath he said, "What Daniel Webster termed 'the miracle of our Constitution' is not something that happens every generation, but every generation in its turn must accept the responsibility of supporting and defending the Constitution, and bearing true faith and allegiance to it. That is the oath that I just took."
While the speeches made by the President and the new Chief Justice were sweet and sounded good for press purposes, the confirmation of Roberts doesn't make a huge difference. Many believe the position of chief justice is a very powerful one. This simply is not the case. Chief justices can assign opinions when they are in the majority, either to themselves or their collegues. The Chief also stands to represent the court and presides over an impeachment hearing if one should occur for the president; otherwise he is just another justice on the court. As such, in replacing a man like Rehnquist who already held and fighted for very conservative views, Roberts isn't going to sway the court very much in one way or another.
On the other hand, republicans and democrats have already geared up for the fight over who will replace Justice Sandra Day O'Conner, a critical swing vote in the court. Rehnquist was increadibly conservative as a result, politically speaking any nominee would not make the court any more conservative than it already was. The next fight over the replacement of O'Connor will be both heated and devisive. There is even talk about bringing back the critical debate involving the nuclear option (taking away the fillubuster). Democrats have threatened to use the fillubuster for any nominee whom is too extreme. The republicans are calling on Bush to nominate as exteme right of a candidate as he can muster because republicans want to "fight over something where we know what the fight is about."
The next confirmation battle is the one that could reshape the court for better or for worse depending on one's personal views. O'Conner has been a critical swing vote on the court since the 1970's. Her vote helped to decide anything from abortion cases to civil rights cases to cases involving economics. Democrats and Republicans alike want her seat. With all the political and legal rhetoric that is being thrown around right now as well as the millions of dollars being spent by interest groups; one has to wonder, if the Supreme Court only did what the constitution granted it power to do instead of engaging in judicial policy making, would these batttles be this heated and divisive?

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