Interview With Chief Justice Roberts

Not a single person has voted for me and if we don't like what the people in Congress do, we can get rid of them, and if you don't like what I do, it's kind of too bad. And that is, to me, an important constraint. It means that I'm not there to make a judgment based on my personal policy preferences or my political preferences.

The only reason I'm protected from those political pressures is because I'm supposed to make a decision based on the law. And so I don't think it would be a good idea to turn all the hard issues over to the courts. Those hard issues belong in Congress, they belong in the Executive Branch.

The courts have the responsibility to make sure both of those branches abide by the legal limits in the Constitution, but that's it.

CRAWFORD GREENBURG: When do you think the court has gone too far?

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Well, I think it has. There are examples certainly throughout our history. Perhaps one of the smarter people to sit on the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Taney decided he knew the answer and he was going to solve this troubling slavery question and you get the Dred Scott decision, one of the great disasters in American history.

That's a good example of where the court thought it was the one that was charged with the responsibility of deciding these important issues and it was going to contribute to the resolution of that controversy. It led to nothing but grief.

I think there are other examples where the court's gone beyond deciding the issue according to law and intruded into the political sphere and it's caused all sorts of trouble.

CRAWFORD GREENBURG: What about something more recent that 150 years?

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Well, you know, I'm more comfortable talking about bad decisions a 150 years ago than more recently, just because they could come up.

CRAWFORD GREENBURG: Do you think that, in your remarks you were talking about the least dangerous branch, do you think that the Supreme Court still is the least dangerous branch?

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Well, it certainly occupies a role in American life far beyond what it did at the time of the founding. I mean, just think how often people say reflexively, whenever there's an important social issue or political controversy, 'Well, the Supreme Court's going to decide that' or 'We're going to take it all the way up to the Supreme Court.'

The first reaction of people ought to be, 'I'm going to call my Congressperson about that' or 'I'm going to talk to my Senator or my governor or representative or somebody in the Executive Branch.'

The great gift of the founding generation was the right of self-government. We shouldn't give it up so easily to think that all the important issues are going to be decided by the Supreme Court.

CRAWFORD GREENBURG: President Bush said that he wanted to nominate judges in the mold of Justice Thomas and Justice Scalia. Do you think that he succeeded?

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: You know, I have a great deal of admiration for both Justice Scalia and Justice Thomas and that admiration and respect has only deepened over the past year I've had the opportunity to sit with them.

But all of the justices are their own people and we're individual justices and we don't like to be thought of as being like each other. I know it's convenient for those of you in the media to sort of group us together and talk about it that way, but that's not how we decide cases.

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