Why I Walked Out on John Roberts

Michael Filozof
I've had doubts about Chief Justice John Roberts for a couple of years now -- doubts that were unfortunately confirmed Thursday by his decision upholding ObamaCare.

In October 2010, Canisius College in Buffalo, NY hosted Chief Justice Roberts as part of the Raichle Lecture Series.  The Raichle Lectures are sponsored by the college's pre-law center, and the college deserves credit for booking some real heavy hitters -- past guests have included Supreme Court Justices Rehnquist, Scalia, and O'Connor, and other notable figures like Rudy Giuliani.

I was excited about the opportunity to see the head of one of the three coequal branches of government in person -- especially in an academic setting, ripe for debate, ideas, and insights on how things really work at the seat of power.  I was really looking forward to hearing the kind of Socratic give-and-take Justice Scalia and Judge Bork are known for when they visit colleges and law schools.

I was sorely disappointed.

The event was not a "lecture"; it was formatted as a conversation between the chief and a moderator on a stage in front of about 1,300 people in the Koessler Center, the college's basketball arena.

Virtually all of it was trivia, minutiae, and nonsense -- sort of like watching Jay Leno interviewing some airheaded Hollywood actress on The Tonight Show.  The chief prattled on about the weather in Buffalo, the fine print on prescriptions, etc., etc.

When the moderator asked Roberts if he had a judicial philosophy in approaching cases and he replied that he "really didn't have any," I got up and left.  Listening to Roberts was a complete waste of my time.

I came away with the distinct impression that Roberts was a milquetoast, country-club Republican who had gotten to his station in life by having impeccable Harvard credentials and sitting around the clubhouse after the golf game and chatting amiably with the other lawyers and never saying anything even slightly controversial or partisan.  Roberts seemed like the master of pleasing everyone all the time by saying nothing of substance.

The Monday-morning quarterbacking after the ObamaCare decision is that Roberts sought to preserve the reputation of the Court from partisan attacks by the left, and that he tried to please both the left and the right by rejecting the "commerce clause" argument but still upholding the legislation. From what I saw of him, I think that's probably true.

But Roberts's decision saddled the nation with an execrable 2,700-page law that gives government control over nearly 20% of the economy, allows unlimited future taxation to control our behavior, and makes our dietary practices, sexual practices, and mental health the concern of federal bureaucrats in Washington.  His decision may have pleased the country-club moderates, but I suspect that James Madison is rolling in his grave.

I've had doubts about Chief Justice John Roberts for a couple of years now -- doubts that were unfortunately confirmed Thursday by his decision upholding ObamaCare.

In October 2010, Canisius College in Buffalo, NY hosted Chief Justice Roberts as part of the Raichle Lecture Series.  The Raichle Lectures are sponsored by the college's pre-law center, and the college deserves credit for booking some real heavy hitters -- past guests have included Supreme Court Justices Rehnquist, Scalia, and O'Connor, and other notable figures like Rudy Giuliani.

I was excited about the opportunity to see the head of one of the three coequal branches of government in person -- especially in an academic setting, ripe for debate, ideas, and insights on how things really work at the seat of power.  I was really looking forward to hearing the kind of Socratic give-and-take Justice Scalia and Judge Bork are known for when they visit colleges and law schools.

I was sorely disappointed.

The event was not a "lecture"; it was formatted as a conversation between the chief and a moderator on a stage in front of about 1,300 people in the Koessler Center, the college's basketball arena.

Virtually all of it was trivia, minutiae, and nonsense -- sort of like watching Jay Leno interviewing some airheaded Hollywood actress on The Tonight Show.  The chief prattled on about the weather in Buffalo, the fine print on prescriptions, etc., etc.

When the moderator asked Roberts if he had a judicial philosophy in approaching cases and he replied that he "really didn't have any," I got up and left.  Listening to Roberts was a complete waste of my time.

I came away with the distinct impression that Roberts was a milquetoast, country-club Republican who had gotten to his station in life by having impeccable Harvard credentials and sitting around the clubhouse after the golf game and chatting amiably with the other lawyers and never saying anything even slightly controversial or partisan.  Roberts seemed like the master of pleasing everyone all the time by saying nothing of substance.

The Monday-morning quarterbacking after the ObamaCare decision is that Roberts sought to preserve the reputation of the Court from partisan attacks by the left, and that he tried to please both the left and the right by rejecting the "commerce clause" argument but still upholding the legislation. From what I saw of him, I think that's probably true.

But Roberts's decision saddled the nation with an execrable 2,700-page law that gives government control over nearly 20% of the economy, allows unlimited future taxation to control our behavior, and makes our dietary practices, sexual practices, and mental health the concern of federal bureaucrats in Washington.  His decision may have pleased the country-club moderates, but I suspect that James Madison is rolling in his grave.