Chief Justice John Roberts addressed Tuesday the brutal, highly contentious battle surrounding the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, emphasizing the high court’s independence from the other branches of government and its mission to "serve one nation."
“I have great respect for our public officials. After all, they speak for the people and that commands a certain degree of humility from those of us in the judicial branch who do not,” Roberts said during remarks at the University of Minnesota Law School.
“We speak for the Constitution," he continued. "Our role is very clear: We are to interpret the Constitution and the laws of the United States and to ensure that the political branches act within them.”
The chief justice noted that the job of a Supreme Court justice "requires independence from the political branches."
Roberts said that he would not “criticize the political branches.”
“We do that enough in our opinions,” he joked.
Speaking about the court’s history, Roberts noted that it has “from time to time erred, and erred greatly.”
“But when it has, it’s been because the court yielded to political pressure,” he said.
Roberts specifically referenced the 1944 Supreme Court decision in the case Korematsu v. United States, in which the justices “shamefully” upheld the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.
The chief justice went on to reference comments Kavanaugh made during his ceremonial swearing-in at the White House last week, though Roberts did not mention Kavanaugh by name.
He specifically cited the tradition among the justices to shake hands with one another before they take the bench to hear oral arguments.
“It’s a small thing, perhaps, but it is a repeated reminder that, as our newest colleague put it, we do not sit on opposite sides of an aisle, we do not caucus in separate rooms, we do not serve one party or one interest. We serve one nation,” Roberts said. “I want to assure all of you that we will continue to do that to the best of our abilities whether times are calm or contentious.”
During a question-and-answer session following his remarks, Roberts highlighted the collegiality among his colleagues on the court, saying it’s “very good.”
“We do think we’re in this important enterprise together,” he said.
The chief justice noted that at times in the Supreme Court’s history, there have been “unpleasant people” at the court.
“Now is not one of those times” he said.