Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

Now, it's the Roberts court

About these ads

This much is known for sure: His favorite movie is "Doctor Zhivago."

After that, surprisingly little is known about John Roberts, who is about to take up the reins of one of the most powerful institutions in American government as the 17th chief justice of the United States.

Will he vote to overturn the abortion precedent Roe v. Wade? Some legal analysts say yes, others no.

Will he favor states' power over Congress's efforts to pass federal laws under the Commerce Clause?

Does he have a long-term strategy to move the court to the right, or will he gravitate to the center on some issues, as Justice Sandra Day O'Connor did?

In many ways the nation has a less clear impression of Judge Roberts now than before his confirmation hearings. But according to Roberts's philosophy of judicial modesty and restraint, that's a good thing. While American democracy thrives on knowing in advance the policy choices of presidents and senators, judges perform a different role, Roberts says. With them, less is more.

"We don't know precisely how he will rule in Roe v. Wade and other specific issues, but I don't think that is necessarily such a bad thing," says John Maltese, a political science professor at the University of Georgia and author of "The Selling of Supreme Court Nominees."

"People should take some comfort in the fact that he is not predetermining how he will vote on certain issues, if he is really being honest about this," Professor Maltese says. "Judges are, after all, supposed to be deciding the cases that come before them, and we expect that they should not have predetermined notions about how cases should be decided."

Thursday, the Senate confirmed Roberts by a vote of 78 to 22.

As chief justice, Roberts will occupy the center chair at the Supreme Court and become "first among equals." Although he casts only a single vote like each of the other eight justices, as chief he wields the power when in the majority to assign who will write the majority opinion. He will preside over oral arguments and the closed-door conferences in which the justices discuss which cases to take up and how to decide pending cases. As the second-youngest chief justice, he could have an impact for decades to come.

Administrator in chief

Page 1 of 4

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.