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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Will the Real Chief Justice Please Stand Up?

Chief Justice John Roberts was at the University of Miami Monday for an interview with ABC News’ Jan Crawford Greenburg.

The Chief Justice said he does not think that courts should take on “hard issues” of public policy, which belong before the legislature. We hope this means that Chief Justice Roberts will respect Congress’ authority next time the Court considers challenges to our national environmental laws, or to legislation designed to protect workers or consumers. No, Chief Justice Roberts, we haven't forgotten your dissent in Rancho Viejo while you were still a D.C. Circuit judge, in which you suggested that some applications of the Endangered Species Act might be unconstitutional.

In his interview, Chief Justice Roberts also stated that “[c]ourts have the responsibility to make sure that [the other] branches abide by the legal limits of the Constitution,” and that judges should not make decisions based on personal or political preferences. Could it be that the Chief Justice might actually vote to limit the abuses of the executive branch? If memory serves us, before the Supreme Court forced the executive branch to accede to the will of Congress in its Hamdan decision, then-Judge Roberts joined in the D.C. Circuit's Hamdan decision which upheld the president's unilateral establishment of procedurally-deficient military commissions to try enemy combatants.

So which Chief Justice will be at the helm of our nation's high court as it takes on pressing issues of environmental protection and presidential power over the coming decades? To paraphrase Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI), who expressed uncertainty about the Roberts nomination, we hope that it is the Chief Justice who embodies our "hopes ... and not [our] fears."

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