John Roberts Criticizes Supreme Court Nomination Process

John Roberts, Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, is not happy.

Like many other federal judges over the last few decades, he has become upset with how nominations to the federal courts–and especially the Supreme Court–have become politicized.

He voiced his concerns in a public interview in February.

“Look at my more recent colleagues, all extremely well qualified for the court, and the votes were, I think, strictly on party lines for the last three of them, or close to it, and that doesn’t make any sense. That suggests to me that the process is being used for something other than ensuring the qualifications of the nominees.”

Roberts’ interview took place prior to fellow Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s death on February 13.

John Roberts at Antonin Scalia's funeral
[Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images/

Republican Senate Vs. Obama

Immediately after Scalia’s death, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declared that he would not allow for any new high court nominees this year.

“The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.”

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Republicans counter that in 1992, then-Senator Joseph Biden, now vice president, declared that if a vacancy were to occur during the 1992 campaign season, the following should occur.

“President Bush should consider following the practice of a majority of his predecessors and not, and not, name a nominee until after the November election is completed.

Obama Nominates Merrick Garland

As the Inquisitr reported on March 16, President Obama defied McConnell’s assertion, and announced that Merrick Garland, 63, was his choice to be the next Supreme Court Justice. He stated his Constitutional obligations at the Rose Garden announcement.

“I am fulfilling my constitutional duty. I’m doing my job. I hope that our Senators will do their jobs, and move quickly to consider my nominee.”

Roberts On Garland

While Chief Justice Roberts has not publicly opined on Garland’s nomination, he has spoken highly of him in the past. The New York Times notes that at his confirmation hearings in 2005, Roberts then stated, “Anytime Judge Garland disagrees, you know you’re in a difficult area.”

Roberts and Garland worked together on the U.S. District Court of Appeals for four years until Roberts’ nomination by President George W. Bush.

Should Roberts Speak Out?

The Times quoted two law professors who believe that Roberts should speak up for Garland. One of them is Akhil Amar, a law professor at Yale University.

“He’d be crossing party lines, so to speak, and this would be a third extraordinary moment of John Roberts showing that he is no partisan.”

(The other two “extraordinary moments,” according to Amar, were his decisions support the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. “Obamacare.”)

Barry Friedman of New York University Law School also said Roberts should publicly call for Garland’s confirmation.

“It’s the chief justice’s job to guard the institutional integrity of the court. It would be appropriate for the chief justice to remind the coordinate branch of government that they are leaving the Supreme Court in an awkward state for a couple of terms if they don’t act.”

A Partisan Divide

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In his interview, Chief Justice Roberts noted that in years past, there was very little partisanship raised against Supreme Court nominees. He noted that when the conservative Scalia was nominated in 1986, he was unanimously confirmed.

But as Scalia noted in 2007, according to the Times, “I couldn’t get 60 votes today.”

Additionally, the liberal Ruth Bader Ginsburg was overwhelmingly confirmed, 96-3, when nominated by President Bill Clinton in 1993.

However, Roberts noted that the most recent nominations were more heavily scrutinized by U.S. Senators.

  • Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., nominated by Bush in 2006, had 42 votes cast against him.
  • Justice Sonia Sotomayor, nominated by Obama in 2009, received 31 negative votes.
  • Justice Elena Kagan, nominated by Obama in 2010, saw 37 senators vote against her ascension.

There was an failed filibuster attempt against Justice Alito, which was joined by then-Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton — a move the White House says President Obama now “regrets.”

What do you think? Should the Senate give Merrick Garland a fair hearing?

[Photo by Larry Downing/AP Images]