Monday, May 25, 2009

A Profile of Chief Justice John Roberts

In a lengthy profile in the May 25, 2009 New Yorker ("No More Mr. Nice Guy," which you can access here), Jeffrey Toobin argues that Chief Justice John Roberts is powerfully asserting himself on the Court, notwithstanding his claim during his 2005 confirmation hearings that his jurisprudence would be characterized by "modesty and humility."

Toobin's profile is, at times, critical of Roberts's approach to his work -- he argues that Roberts not only reflects the values of the Republican Party but that he also "serves its interests." Toobin also claims that in every "major" case since becoming Chief Justice, Roberts has:
  1. Sided with the prosecution over the defendant;
  2. Sided with the state over the condemned;
  3. Sided with the executive branch over the legislative branch; and
  4. Sided with the corporate defendant over the individual plaintiff
The most interesting parts of Toobin's article address Roberts's jurisprudence on issues of race.

In Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1 (2007), the Supreme Court examined Seattle's integration plan for its public schools. The Seattle plan included a student's race as one factor in assigning him or her to a particular school. Roberts, writing for a 5-4 Court (and to the dismay of many liberals) relied on Brown v. Board of Education (1954) for the proposition that the Seattle plan violated the Equal Protection Clause by assigning students (in part) based on their race. Seattle's most-quoted line is that "The way to stop discriminating on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race."

Toobin says Roberts will soon reveal more of his thinking on the role that race should (or, more likely, should not) play in governmental action, as the Court will issue, this June, its decisions in major cases addressing the constitutional validity of (1) the preclearance requirement under the Voting Rights Act and (2) the city of New Haven's denial of promotions to certain white firefighters even though they had scored better than black applicants on a test.

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