Hey John Roberts, How 'Bout Some Softball?
I was able to attend the [John Roberts lecture] tonight after snagging a coveted media credential under the pretense that I'd be writing an article about it. Only for my plan to be foiled when the lack of substance to the lecture drove me to actually put down a few words.° [Serviceable recording of the full event] (57 min, 79mb)After making some introductory remarks and cracking a couple jokes, the chief justice launched into the body of his speech: an elementary history lesson about the Louisiana Purchase (which happened 205 years ago today), outlining how the deal went down and what business people (the School of Business sponsored the lecture) have to learn about it. Blah blah blah, it reminded me of a history lesson for grade school kids, but no matter.What I was looking forward to was the Q&A section, usually the most interesting part of a speech from a government official reluctant to bring up controversial topics. But rather than having microphones set up for the audience, as was the case when I saw Mikhail Gorbachev speak at K-State a couple years ago and when former FEMA director Michael Brown spoke at the Dole Institute last year, they did the thing where questions were handpicked by the organizers of the speech. Still, this could have been OK if they picked good questions. But not one hardball, let alone challenging, question was picked. Not once was a specific case the Chief Justice has heard mentioned, nor the president's name.These were the questions (paraphrased from my notes) and answers:Q: Should the First Amendment be upheld when many find the actions of those who invoke it to be objectionable? A: It's important to uphold the First Amendment even when it's unpopular to do so.Q: Is the Constitution a "living document," or, as Justice Antonin Scalia recently said, is it "dead"? A: "It's a legal document. Legal documents don't die or live. ... If you want to change it, there's a way to change it, and it's not by judicial decision."Q: How does the Supreme Court decide which cases to hear? A: Blah blah blah...Q: How do you separate your personal views from your position as Chief Justice? A: "A system of rules is better than a system of discretion."Q: How does the Court respond to technological changes, like the internet? A: Blah blah blah, technology complicates things...Q: To what extent does/should the Court act as a check on the executive branch? A: "We certainly recognize that as one of the more important parts of the job."Q: What is the most difficult decision you've had to make as Chief Justice? A: "Part of the job is to approach all the cases the same. ... That may be a very waffling answer."Q: What are the dynamics of the Court when hearing a controversial case and what is the role of the Chief Justice? A: "Same as any other..."Hey, here's a topical question: Why did you vote to uphold Indiana's voter ID law? Or how 'bout: Is the executive branch overstepping the boundaries set by the Constitution (as one of the questions that was asked flaccidly hinted at)? I'm not saying there needed to be unfair, "gotcha" questions. Just interesting, challenging questions that would have made for a more lively speech for all audience members, conservative, liberal and other. I find it hard to believe that no such questions were submitted. I suppose the organizers of the lecture didn't want to be impolite by choosing hard questions (speaking of impolite, Ann Coulter was chosen to deliver the same lecture three years ago). The point of the Vickers Memorial Lecture Series, according to the pamphlet someone handed me as I entered the Lied Center, is "to debate or discuss subjects vital to maintaining a free political market society." Bringing in Chief Justice Roberts presented an extremely rare, rich opportunity to hear one of the most important decision-makers in the United States discuss the issues of the day. That's why it was so disappointing that not one current event, and hardly a thing of substance, was discussed. : http://www.lawrence.com/events/2008/apr/30/26949/ : http://www.lawrence.com/audioclips/3967/