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Thursday, September 29, 2005

John Roberts and William Bennett

On the day our new conservative Chief Justice John Roberts is confirmed and sworn in to lead the Supreme Court of our land, there is another story in the news...that of the conservative former Secretary of Education under Reagan and Drug Czar under the first President Bush, William Bennett.

Studying the Supreme Court in American Politics our professor was always very clear about the political context of the Supreme Court. Simply put, the Justices make decisions in context.

This is our current context: conservatism is "sick" in America, at the very top. William Bennett is no fringe figure. He was in charge of education and drug policy under two separate Republican Presidents. He was a "figurehead" in speaking out on conservative ethics during the Clinton impeachment.

While there is no direct tie between the malicious views of Bill Bennett and the public record of John Roberts, Justice Roberts well knows that as Chief Justice for all Americans he has a duty to the Constitution and the American people that goes beyond mere affirmation of whether decisions reflect the law of the land. As Barack Obama noted...

"...what matters on the Supreme Court is those 5 percent of cases that are truly difficult. In those cases, adherence to precedent and rules of construction and interpretation will only get you through the 25th mile of the marathon. That last mile can only be determined on the basis of one's deepest values, one's core concerns, one's broader perspectives on how the world works, and the depth and breadth of one's empathy.

In those 5 percent of hard cases, the constitutional text will not be directly on point. The language of the statute will not be perfectly clear. Legal process alone will not lead you to a rule of decision. In those circumstances, your decisions about whether affirmative action is an appropriate response to the history of discrimination in this country or whether a general right of privacy encompasses a more specific right of women to control their reproductive decisions or whether the commerce clause empowers Congress to speak on those issues of broad national concern that may be only tangentially related to what is easily defined as interstate commerce, whether a person who is disabled has the right to be accommodated so they can work alongside those who are nondisabled -- in those difficult cases, the critical ingredient is supplied by what is in the judge's heart."


Today, Chief Justice Roberts takes control of a court in the context of William Bennett's foul words, of a conservative movement that has lost its bearings and its ability to speak to all Americans. Roberts knows that we, the citizens, are watching him and the Court, and the context he finds himself in is a nation mistrustful and divided by the abuse of trust and power exemplified in the words of William Bennett....words that find many of us doubtful of what lies at the core of the conservative heart. If that is what is said in public by former cabinet members, what do they say in private, and how will they define the law?

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