November 15, 2006

Chief Justice Roberts -- he's telegenic.

And he's helping the home viewer tolerate the power of the judiciary... says Dahlia Lithwick:
Unlike Justice David Souter, who loathes the cameras to the point of some kind of pathology, Roberts embraces the lens, which adores him right back. Unlike Justice Clarence Thomas, whose view of all media is—perhaps understandably — constrained by an us/them isolationism, and unlike Justice Antonin Scalia, whose prickly contempt for the media keeps crashing head-on with his desire to have a voice in the broader national conversation about the law, only the chief understands the whole honey/vinegar problem.

Individual politics and ideology notwithstanding, what's most important about this unprecedented new era of the Talk Show Jurist is just this: As Americans begin to see their justices as real people with real concerns and real dandruff, their fear of an isolated, elitist, and out-of-touch judiciary begins to recede. We may not all be completely sold on Roberts' idea of minimalism or on O'Connor's opposition to judicial oversight. But we are at least beginning to see our justices taking their case to the American people and grappling to justify their own role in this democracy. Trivial as it may sound, it's awfully nice to know that they care enough to finally talk to us.
Despite the seeming perfection of John Roberts, we need to know how to resist the telegenic personality. You can be good on TV and still make bad decisions and bad on TV -- or completely TV-averse -- and be a great judge. Surely some great judges are ugly and gruff or unable to string words together in crisp TV-sized bites. And some judges who would overreach and abuse their power can look good and sound nice and friendly on the tube.

But I do agree with Lithwick that it's good for the judges to talk to us and to help people understand the judicial role. What the judges say when they go on TV is -- to my ear -- an astoundingly basic and repetitive civics lesson, but based on my own experience, it is a lesson people find strangely difficult to absorb.

15 comments:

MadisonMan said...

When I first read the title I saw ".. -- he's telepathic." That would be a good reason for him to be Chief Justice.

Anonymous said...

Evolution has given good looks an advantage, presumably because symmetry is a sign of good health. Now the videoization of life is taking the advantage to a higher level, a process that simply feeds on itself. Neither Lincoln nor Taft could ever be elected President now. Doesn't Pelosi have an advantage on Hastert, simply from the looks angle? The attention given to grooming (remember "metrosexuals") these days is much, much greater than in the 1950's.

David said...

Based on what we all observed during Roberts' inquisition by the democrats, during his confirmation hearing, a supreme court justice is nothing more than a partisan shill.

The democrats beat the stare decisis horse to death as Roberts took the heat with grace and aplomb! A telegenic media presence and a sharp legal mind are a joy to behold. The opposite would be John Edwards who is telegenic but nothing more than a lucky ambulance chaser.

Ann Althouse said...

John Edwards isn't just "lucky." He was smart enough to pick the cases that could win big damage awards and to present his arguments to juries to maximize the awards. That's a real skill.

George said...

Couple more years in his present boring low-pay job and he'll be able to cash in...the tell-all book, a TV show, speaking engagements, and !! corporate consulting.....

Simon said...

Ann,
Did you notice that I'm cited in that article? Hehe.

Lithwick cites a post of mine from earlier this year (wherein I rejected the prevailing view of Roberts' Georgetown speech as endorsing minimalism per se), and implicitly refers to me as a legal academic (she cites my post and a Cass Sunstein op/ed in support of the proposition that "[t]here is a debate raging among legal academics as to whether the new chief justice really is a judicial minimalist"). Even coming from Dahlia, I'm going to elect to take that as a profound compliment, although I think she may be missing my point (probably my fault - that was my first post at SF, and while I think the argument is correct, the writing isn't quite up to scratch. I clarified the point here. ;)

Dave said...

"Surely some great judges are ugly and gruff"

Robert Bork?

Tho I don't consider him a great judge.

Anonymous said...

This masturbatory puff piece about the Chief Justice just doesn't say very much. The new era of the talk show jurist? When the hell did this happen? Are the tv channels I get at home different from those that everybody else gets? Roberts goes on tv five times a year and all of a sudden we're in the era of the "talk show jurist."

Roberts is good on tv, but then he's also a very good-looking man. Stephen Breyer is also clever and well-spoken and a good interview, but he's old and has a weak chin, so nobody fawns over how good he is on tv.

David said...

Interesting that we are discussing telegenic law types and tort reform when out of the woodwork pops up no other than O.J. Simpson and his band of lawyers and Judge Ito.

Doing so-called "GOD's Work" in defense of the little guy/gal is noble, if not a self-serving stretch of the collective imagination.

Foisting junk science on ignorant juries to win a case is ethically questionable. Arguably, Edwards has done some good for victims of corporate greed and hubris disguised as cost-benefit-analysis.
Distinctions between legitimate lawsuits and nuisance lawsuits needs to be continually addressed.
Whether I get fleeced by a major corporation that produces widgets or a major legal corporation that sues the maker of widgets matters little to me. Fleeced is fleeced and full-disclosure should be required by all.

Tort reform and caps on punitive awards/damages needs to continue. Otherwise the cult of victimhood will continue and the price of loopholes written by lawyers will be passed on to society.

Mortimer Brezny said...

John Edwards isn't just "lucky." He was smart enough to pick the cases that could win big damage awards and to present his arguments to juries to maximize the awards. That's a real skill.

Yes, but there are many histrionic contingency lawyers who do just that just as skillfully but are less rich because they aren't as boyish and have worse hair.

Anonymous said...

Mortimer - Yes, without question. But the same is true of any occupation. Charisma, personality and, to a lesser extent, good looks matter. They just do. How do you think George W. Bush was elected president? On native intelligence and the soundness of his policies? HAHAHAHAHAHA.

Paul Zrimsek said...

As judges take on more of the work of politicians, they're going to take on more of the attributes of politicians. Stands to reason.

VW: zoolil. Ask your doctor!

Internet Ronin said...

And here I thought she was just being condescending and sexist (He is telegenic, a Talk Show jurist, soothing) in a back-handed way.

Al Maviva said...

I disagree with you playa haters. I think we need some hot new justices. My vote is for Britney. And for Kelli. Kelli is way hotter than Britney. Come to think of it, Keisha is really hot to. And Shakira. Heck, combined with Justice Roberts, that would be a 5 Justice majority for hotness. Yeah, I think that will definitely fix the lack of public respect for the Supreme Court.

And FWIW, I saw longhair Johnny Edwards in action in his pre-senate days. His closing statements were a joy to behold. As long as the jury was properly selected (i.e. susceptible to emotional appeal and heartwrenching tales of woe delivered in a syrupy, cloying tone) he could hold them in the palm of his hand and make them dance. I believe ATLA used a couple of his closing statements as model performances in CLE videos.

tcd said...

The true test will be how well Justice Roberts looks through high-definition television.