Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Chief Justice Roberts

The Wall Street Journal's headline states:

A Weakened Bush
Plays it Safe
On Chief Justice

With Katrina, Iraq Sapping
Poll Numbers, President
Looks to Judge Roberts

I believe the Journal is wrong. President Bush is not 'playing it safe' by picking Judge Roberts as his nominee for Chief Justice. He is picking wisely, choosing a 50-year old who is very much like the recently deceased William Rehnquist to head the Court for the rest of his life. Roberts is more likely to make wise decisions, ensuring, as did Rehnquist, that rulings be set up in a way so as to discourage change in the future. The Journal gives an excellent example of this ideal:
Part of Mr. Rehnquist's influence as chief came from his evolution from a hard-edged ideological justice to a cooperative manager of his fellow justices. When he first joined the Supreme Court, his background had been as a Republican political operative and then an architect of the Nixon administration's hard line on criminal justice and political dissent. But when elevated to chief justice in 1986, he became known less for stinging dissents than a deep respect for the Supreme Court.

That leadership style sometimes affected the substance of judging. Chief Justice Rehnquist joined the bench as a fierce critic of the Warren Court's efforts to deter police misconduct by excluding ill-gotten evidence and requiring that authorities advise prisoners of their rights before questioning them. But in 2000, he wrote for a seven-member majority to affirm the 1966 decision that established the famous Miranda warning. "Miranda has become embedded in routine police practice to the point where the warnings have become part of our national culture," he wrote. By siding with the majority -- and against dissenting Justices Scalia and Thomas -- he could assign himself the job of writing the opinion and prevent a more liberal justice from expanding Miranda's sweep.
Bush has chosen Roberts because it ensures a conservative leader of the Court for years to come, but not in a fashion that will turn people off and against the Court. Once again, Bush has made a decision that is designed for the long-term, not the short. I am still betting that President George W. Bush will go down as one of the most decisive and influential Presidents in history - whether one agrees with him or not.

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