Monday, May 22, 2006

Chief Justice Says His Goal Is More Consensus on Court

The New York Times
Chief Justice Says His Goal Is More Consensus on Court

WASHINGTON, May 21 (AP) — Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said Sunday that he was seeking greater consensus on the Supreme Court, adding that more consensus would be likely if controversial issues could be decided on the "narrowest possible grounds."

In a 15-minute address to Georgetown University law graduates, Chief Justice Roberts, 51, sketched a vision for leading a court sharply divided on issues like abortion, the death penalty and gay rights.

He said the nation would benefit if the justices could avoid 5-to-4 decisions in cases with sweeping impact, noting that many of the court's most controversial cases, including presidential wartime powers and political boundaries in Texas, would be decided in the final six weeks of the current term.

"If it is not necessary to decide more to a case, then in my view it is necessary not to decide more to a case," Chief Justice Roberts said. "Division should not be artificially suppressed, but the rule of law benefits from a broader agreement. The broader the agreement among the justices, the more likely it is a decision on the narrowest possible grounds."

His comments come as the court is under criticism by some members of Congress who say the justices have overreached in decisions that struck down the death penalty for juveniles and allowed cities to use eminent domain powers to take homes for private economic development.

In recent weeks Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, appointed by President Bill Clinton, and Justice Antonin Scalia, appointed by President Ronald Reagan, have pushed back, suggesting in speeches that Congress should mind its own business rather than seek to tell the court what to do.

Court observers have said that in his eight months on the court, Chief Justice Roberts has been most striking for fostering consensus.

On Sunday, Chief Justice Roberts lightheartedly made reference to the public scrutiny of the court. Much of the recent attention came after President Bush nominated him to be chief justice last summer and selected Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., also a conservative, to succeed Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, often the court's swing vote.

In his confirmation process, both conservative and liberal advocacy groups scoured Chief Justice Roberts's judicial record and background for evidence of his political leanings.

"Look at the graduates around you," he said with a smile. "Twenty-some years from now, these are the people the press is going to track down to find something embarrassing about you."

He added, "Today is the day to decide among yourselves, what happens at Georgetown stays at Georgetown."