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Home » Archives » Legislative Issues » National Legislation Issues Archive » Sept. 12, 2005 - The New Chief Justice?

Sept. 12, 2005 - The New Chief Justice?

By James Standish

Dear Friends of Freedom:

Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court
John G. Roberts, Jr

A week ago today was the first time this title and this name were officially combined in the form of the President’s nominee.

Today at noon, eastern time, the confirmation process began. This process will determine whether the title and the name will become one for the term of John Roberts’ life.

In over two hundred years no one younger than Roberts has ever been nominated for Chief Justice. If confirmed, Roberts’ tenure as Chief Justice could endure through eight presidential terms, should time last. This would put Roberts on the bench long after most of the Senators engaged in the confirmation will have retired. From a personal perspective, Roberts would likely be Chief Justice for the duration of my own legal career.

In short, what happens over the next few days matters, and matters tremendously. Some would contend that the appointment of a Supreme Court Chief Justice matters more than a presidential election. This is because the Supreme Court is considered the most influential branch of government with respect to influencing fundamental rights.

So what do we know about John G. Roberts, Jr.?

We know he is extremely intelligent, disciplined, hard working and self controlled. We know that his past writings indicate comfort with a closer relationship between church and state than the Court followed during the 1960’s – 1980’s. It has been reported that he is personally politically conservative and a devout Catholic, but he has represented the ACLU, assisted on a pro bono basis with a pro gay rights case, and has managed to make good friends across the political spectrum.

There is one thing we don’t know. We don’t know where he stands on the free exercise of religion. That is, we don’t know whether his views are similar to Justice Sandra Day O’Connor -- that the Constitution guarantees a high level of protection for religious minorities; or whether he is more closely aligned with Justice Antonin Scalia -- that religious minorities should look to Congress to enforce inalienable rights of religious freedom, rather than to the courts.

It may seem like an obscure legal point, but I suggest to you as defenders of religious liberty, this difference has tremendous practical implications. The idea of inalienable rights is that, no matter the popular sentiment, these rights must be protected. Giving Congress, a popularly elected body, the responsibility of protecting the inalienable rights of unpopular small minorities – is unlikely to result in significant protection.

We will be following the confirmation process closely over the next few days for any evidence of Judge John Roberts’ disposition on this critical free exercise question. We are also concerned to see him express his views on the separation of church and state under the Establishment Clause. These are critical protections, and John Roberts is likely to have an enormous impact on how they are interpreted for many, many years to come.

Before I close, I want to touch on the almost unimaginable suffering inflicted by Hurricane Katrina. One of the Seventh-day Adventists working in Congress and one of our religious liberty supporters in Washington State, both made the same suggestion to me. They suggested that it would be wonderful if every Adventist Church in the United States adopted at least one family displaced by the devastation. It certainly would speak much louder about who we are as Christians than all the words we can say.

Fortunately, there are a number of ways for us to do this. The North American Division has put together a very useful website with ideas how we as individuals, as churches and as a church family as a whole can help: I hope each one of us will take a minute to visit the site and become active in what is bound to be a very long recovery period.

These are truly remarkable times we are living in. Recently, I was talking to a friend who is not a Christian, and he found it hard to believe that first we had the tsunami and now the hurricane. As we reflect on the unprecedented quick succession of these enormous tragedies, it is hard to ignore that something profound appears to be at work in our world.

I pray that God will bless each one of you, and be most particularly close to those who are suffering.

James Standish