Roberts Vote

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(HOST) With the Senate set to vote on the confirmation of Judge John Roberts for Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, commentator Cheryl Hanna has been agonizing over how she might decide.

(HANNA) Like many people, I wish Roberts had been more revealing in his testimony, particularly about such controversial issues as the right to privacy and affirmative action.

I’m especially concerned that Roberts’ narrow reading of the law will leave individuals and minorities without judicial review of their constitutional rights.

Also, given that Roberts is a beltway insider, he may focus too much on legal principles and not enough on how the law affects real people.

And the hearings were just another reminder that the make-up of the Supreme Court, and the Senate Judiciary Committee, for that matter, doesn’t look at all like the rest of America.

I can assure you that there are plenty of highly qualified women and minorities who could fill the Chief Justice’s seat. There shouldn’t be a quota system, but by the same token, the majority of Americans deserve more than token representation on the Court.

I’m afraid that the Supreme Court is losing legitimacy in the eyes of the public, who see nine unelected officials who aren’t truly representative of America, making decisions that affect the most intimate details of our lives. In the long run, the public will have a harder time accepting controversial decisions, which could ultimately undermine the Court’s role in a democratic society.

All that said, however, I’d have a hard time justifying a “no” vote. Roberts is supremely qualified for the job. Indeed, he’s arguably the most qualified candidate to be nominated in recent history, both in terms of his credentials, and his temperament. From a lawyer’s perspective, his answers to many questions were deeply impressive. He struck me as being more devoted to intellectual integrity than political ideology.

Indeed, one of my colleagues observed that liberals and moderate Republicans have little to fear in Roberts given what most believe is his sincere reverence for the law, and his minimalist approach to judging. Social conservatives, however, may be disappointed that Roberts isn’t as “activist” as they may have hoped.

Furthermore, I’m sympathetic that for any nominee, it’s impossible to be frank. If Roberts had revealed how he’d vote on a case challenging Roe v. Wade, for example, it would’ve killed his nomination no matter how he answered.

And I worry that a Senate vote along partisan lines will further erode the public’s confidence in the Court, which should remain independent of politics as much as possible.

The dilemma is that as much as Roberts
appears to have the potential to be a great Chief Justice, it seems just as likely that he won’t – and we can’t really make reliable predictions either way.

So I’m deeply torn over what would be the right thing to do, which is why I’m glad I’m not a U.S. Senator, at least for this vote.

This is Cheryl Hanna.

Cheryl Hanna is a professor at Vermont Law School in South Royalton.

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