A DISCUSSION OF LAW AND JOURNALISM

Tag: Chief Justice John Roberts

Chief Justice Roberts and “The Oath”

By Gillad Matiteyahu

Back in 2009, before I entered law school, I read “The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court”, by Jeffrey Toobin. At the time, reading about the behind-the-scenes workings of the legal world’s most powerful individuals reinforced my interest in going to law school. So, when Mr. Toobin’s next book came out — “The Oath: The Obama White House and the Supreme Court” — I was eager to read it.

While I wouldn’t recommend “The Oath” with the same passion as I would “The Nine”, I believe it would interest anyone curious about Supreme Court politics. Mr. Toobin’s new work sheds light on many little-known facts surrounding the major decisions of the Roberts Court.

The book begins by focusing on two Harvard Law graduates: Chief Justice John Roberts and President Barrack Obama. In preparation for the oath of office ceremony in 2009, the Chief Justice’s administrative aides contacted the Obama administration to determine the precise words, the pace, and the intonations of the oath. But these communications never reached President Obama himself. Mr. Toobin writes that President Obama’s staffers “either never noticed the PDF, lost it, ignored it, or forgot about it.” As a result, when the time to administer the oath arrived, neither President Obama nor Chief Justice Roberts were on the same page and the oath was noticeably botched on national television.

A day later, the President’s legal advisors suggested that, “out of an abundance of caution,” the oath be administered again. The redo took place in the White House Map Room and proceeded smoothly. It is on this image, with President Obama and Chief Justice Roberts standing in front of the Map Room fireplace, that Mr. Toobin pauses to compare the two men. While they shared a common background — Harvard Law School and Law Review — and possess similar characteristics — “powerful intellect and considerable charm” — their respective life experiences led each of them to different beliefs about the Constitution and the Supreme Court.  And these differences are surprising to those of us who think of Chief Justice Roberts as a conservative, and President Obama as an agent of change.

Mr. Toobin writes: “[I]n this crucial realm, the roles of the two men were the opposite of what was widely believed. It was John Roberts who was determined to use his position as chief justice as an apostle of change. He was the one who wanted to usher in a new understanding of the Constitution, with dramatic implications for both the law and the larger society. And it was Barack Obama who was determined to hold on to an older version of the meaning of the Constitution.”

“The Oath” proceeds to focus on the evolution of the Roberts Court beginning with Chief Justice Roberts’ first term when his talent for negotiation and compromise brought the percentage of unanimous decisions up from one-third to an astonishing 45 percent. Unfortunately, this “era of good feeling” was short lived. The rest of the book tells the story of the three major constitutional issues addressed by the Roberts Court: gun control, campaign finance, and the Affordable Care Act.

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Taking it to the Street

By Drew Carroll

Yankee Stadium comes into view out the window of a Bronx bound 4 train and I feel a tinge of excitement.

I’m not going to a game, though.  Instead, I get off at the next stop, from where I head for my weekly visit to a seventh grade classroom inside Jordan L. Mott Middle School.

My mission: To teach the class of minority students – mostly black and Latino—about the Constitution.  Lately, the lessons have had real world practicalities for these kids.

Trayvon Martin’s shooting in Florida has sparked a nationwide discussion about that state’s “Stand Your Ground Law.” People in New York City are also talking about the New York Police Department’s “Stop-and-Frisk” policy, which is said to apply disproportionately to minorities.

The statistics bear out such suspicions: of the 684,330 stops last year, 87 percent were either black or Hispanic. The NYPD says that this is not due to racial profiling, but because more cops are assigned to high crime (mostly minority) urban areas.

Though some lawmakers are trying to craft legislation to curb the racial profiling inherent in the city’s Stop-and-Frisk Policy, it’s the law for now, and one that these seventh graders are familiar with, from their parents, siblings, or even from personal experience – though they are only 13.

My visit to the school is coordinated through Street Law, Inc., a non-profit organization that provides information to underprivileged communities about law. The program was created in honor of the slain Robert F. Kennedy, and in the 40 years since it was created, Street Law has expanded into a million dollar operation bringing legal education to the underserved across the United States and in 40 countries worldwide. Over 100 law schools participate, offering practical legal lessons in their communities.

New York Law School’s Street Law program is designed specifically to meet the challenges presented to minority communities by the city’s Stop-and-Frisk policy. For ten Fridays in the spring, New York Law School students travel to the South Bronx, lesson plans in hand. With the fourth amendment as the focal point, middle school students learn about the law governing police stops, frisks, searches, and arrests, read Supreme Court cases about their rights as students, and then argue both sides of the issues. It may be hard to imagine a group of middle school students sitting around talking about a Supreme Court case, but that is the beauty of Street Law. As one student recently told me, “I need to talk about this,” and with Street Law, she gets that chance.   (more…)

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