Chief justice talks Judge Judy, Bob Dylan with New England Law dean

By Kris Olson
The Daily Record Newswire

BOSTON, MA - U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. was quizzed by Dean John F. O'Brien as part of New England Law's annual Law Day celebration held Feb. 3 at the Westin Copley Place Boston Hotel.

O'Brien broke the ice by first asking Roberts about a pair of polls, one conducted by the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Public Policy Center, which showed that only 15 percent of those surveyed were able to name Roberts as the chief justice; and another, which found that 10 percent of college graduates think that Judge Judy is on the Supreme Court.

"How's she doing?" O'Brien quipped, referring to the TV judge.

The polls, Roberts said, "frankly don't bother me," indicating that the work of a Supreme Court justice "should be anonymous."

Also not troubling, Roberts said, are critics of the court, which at times has to make unpopular decisions, like when it upheld the First Amendment rights of members of the Westboro Baptist Church to protest at soldiers' funerals.

The closest Roberts got to touching any of the more controversial matters that he has helped decide in his decade on the court was in the context of explaining how the role of a Supreme Court justice is different from an elected official. He noted that had been in the legislature, he may not have voted for some of the programs that have come came under the court's review.

Asked whom he envisions as his audience when he crafts his opinions, Roberts responded, "My three sisters," explaining by that he meant people who may not have law degrees but are engaged and interested in the country's affairs, who should be able to read one of the court's opinions and understand what the issue was and how it was resolved.

He said the nature of the doing the same job with the same nine people year after year forges a strong collegial bond, though he acknowledged "it doesn't always shine through in some of our opinions."

"It's an awfully good thing we get away from each other in July and August," he added.

Roberts and O'Brien had a light-hearted exchange over Roberts' livening up a dissent in an otherwise "boring" 2008 telecommunications case by citing a lyric from Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone": "When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose."

O'Brien pointed out that Roberts, it seemed, had cleaned up Dylan's grammar, removing the word "ain't."

On the contrary, said Roberts. He had consulted the liner notes, which contained the proper grammar.

"I'm a bit of a textualist," he joked.

Published: Tue, Feb 09, 2016