Hey John Roberts, How 'Bout Some Softball?

I was able to attend the [John Roberts lecture][1] 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][2] (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. [1]: http://www.lawrence.com/events/2008/apr/30/26949/ [2]: http://www.lawrence.com/audioclips/3967/


Joel 5 years, 11 months ago

If y'all don't mind me pimping the piece I wrote at redblueamerica.com... well, I'll do it even if you do mind. Here's the critical part of my report:*But here's the interesting part: Jefferson didn't think he had the Constitutional authority to negotiate the purchase. Before his presidency, Roberts said, Jefferson had bitterly opposed the Jay Treaty governing relations between the United States and Britain because he thought treaty-making power was limited only to peace treaties. And he proposed amending the Constitution to allow the purchase. Madison took a broader view of the Constitution, and worried the deal might collapse if it had to wait on approval of a new amendment, convinced Jefferson the effort was sound."Sometimes the best deals are lost if the lawyers take too long," Roberts said, endorsing the work of Jefferson, Madison, Monroe and Livingston. Jefferson, he said, "was a good CEO."And that was pretty much the speech. Which leaves us with two ways of looking at Roberts' views of American history: That America was blessed to have a president who could get advice that conflicted with his own opinions and allow himself to be persuaded for the good of the country. Which, yes, it would be nice to have a president like that.Or: That America was blessed to have a president who, when push came to shove, was willing to ignore his own views of the Constitution in order to create an empire.And if that's what Roberts believes: Uh-oh.****Full piece here: http://redblueamerica.com/blog/2008-04-30/chief-justice-john-roberts-and-birth-american-empire-3276


smerdyakov 5 years, 11 months ago

Listening to the vapid pre-selected questions I couldn't help but think about Roberts' joke earlier regarding the differences between D.C. and the Kremlin. We may have free speech in this country, but carefully crafted events like this more closely resemble propaganda a la the Kremlin, China, North Korea et al than the discourse of a healthy democracy. Yeah, yeah... he's a Supreme Court justice who isn't obliged to answer anybody's questions. So don't have a "Q&A" session under the pretense that "cases currently under review are the only topics I can't discuss" (as Roberts said). Puh-lease..


leslie 5 years, 11 months ago

Q: How does the Supreme Court decide which cases to hear?A: Blah blah blah...hilarious.


Keith Campbell 5 years, 11 months ago

Let me make sure I understand this correctly. The School of Business invited the current Chief Justice of the Supreme Court to come lecture on of the Louisiana Purchase? What am I missing here?


Brandon Deines 5 years, 11 months ago

Softball is the right way to describe this. The audience was filled with law students, law faculty, and lawyers, who were there mostly to kiss some ass. As law students, they teach us one thing...don't ever burn any bridges. That guy might have to give you a job someday.


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