United States Chief Justice John Roberts told a Nebraska audience he worries the partisanship that grips Washington will spill over onto the Supreme Court.
Roberts said he’s concerned about the other two branches of government.
“They are not getting along very well these days,” Roberts said during a question and answer period at the Nebraska College of Law. “It’s a period of real partisan rancor that, I think, impedes their ability to carry out their functions”
A crowd of about 400 attended the visit of the Chief Justice to the College of Law, located on the East Campus of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Many others, including high schools throughout the state, listened via an Internet stream of the event.
Eighth Circuit United States Court of Appeals Chief Judge William Riley asked Roberts questions during the hour-long session, admitting to the audience that Roberts had seen the questions ahead of time.
Many of the questions elicited advice from the Chief Justice to law school students, some dove into the inner workings of the court.
Roberts’ worries about partisanship emerged when he was asked about challenges that face the judiciary.
Roberts asserted strongly the court isn’t partisan, divided into Republicans and Democrats, though he conceded an intelligent lay observer of the confirmation process might come to a different conclusion.
“And how somebody as imminently qualified as our newest member, Justice (Elena) Kagan, is confirmed by almost a strict party-line vote. You think, well this must be a political entity, because they’re putting people on or rejecting them on partisan, political lines when that’s just not how it works,” Roberts stated. “So, I’m worried about people having that perception.”
Roberts claimed that hasn’t always been the case, illustrating his point by focusing on the two Justices who represent perhaps the widest philosophical differences on the court.
“It’s not like it’s always been that way,” Roberts said. “Justice (Antonin) Scalia, I think, was confirmed unanimously. I think Justice (Ruth Bader) Ginsburg was confirmed unanimously. Neither one of them would have a chance today. And that doesn’t make any sense. That’s bad for the judiciary.”
AUDIO: U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts discusses growing Washington partisanship and the court. [2:30]
AUDIO: U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts answers questions from 8th US Circuit Chief Judge William Riley at UNL. [1 hour]