Sunday, March 12, 2006

The Roberts Effect

Terry Eastland reports on how the new Chief has already changed the Court dynamics. Of note:
Roberts's new colleagues may be extending him a "honeymoon." But surely Roberts himself is an important part of the explanation. He came from a court--the D.C. Circuit--where the chief judge urged colleagues to make serious efforts to find a broadly acceptable resolution. That approach is what Roberts was used to and, given his personality, one that naturally suits him. But it is not that Roberts merely encourages agreement among the justices. The other day Justice Breyer told an Alabama audience that the justices discuss cases more under Roberts than they did under Rehnquist. Roberts is surely responsible for that, and it marks an important change.

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.
This reinforces a point that Miers' opponents emphasized: it is not merely enough to have a SCOTUS Justice who will "vote the right way." Intellectual firepower is vitally important in not only defending one' point of view, but also in swaying others to one's cause. It's early yet of course, but this appointment may well prove to be more beneficial than previously estimated.


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