Under Roberts the Court has decided 39 cases. Roberts himself has written three opinions. Each was unanimous.... Each is well-written. Concision and clarity distinguish the opinions.... Finally, and not a small point: His opinions are enormously persuasive....Do you believe that high quality writing, more debate among the Justices, and a charismatic leader can squeeze the politics out of judicial decisionmaking? Do you believe that it is only the judicial liberals who allow politics to infuse their decisions? Do you even want all the political sensibility drained out of the opinions?
Justices Stevens and Scalia have both complained over the years about the conferences held on the Fridays of weeks with oral arguments. It is then that the justices at least tentatively decide cases, and yet under Rehnquist the justices typically did little more than declare their votes. For Roberts to invite discussion means that Roberts himself has to come to the conference table fully prepared. That's not hard to imagine. But the other justices have to come prepared as well, or risk embarrassment.
Over time, the Roberts effect may produce not only larger majorities and more stable rulings but also a Court that, thanks to conferences that really are conferences, pays more attention to working out the relevant law and less to mere politics. The distinction between law and politics is, of course, precisely what Roberts (and Samuel Alito) insisted upon during their confirmation hearings, and it lies at the heart of judicial conservatism. The prospect of the continuing advancement of that philosophy is a happy one, and a reason to say hail to this particular chief.
March 13, 2006
Terry Eastland (in the Weekly Standard) has words of praise for John Roberts: