However, Roberts appeared to admit that the public outcry over the case had caused some consternation from the judges. He indirectly referred to ethics as an “issue of concern within the court”.
Roberts’ comments come a month after the Supreme Court issued an unusual joint statement on ethics, but the “Statement on Ethical Principles and Practices” didn’t break much ground and stopped long before the adoption of a binding code of conduct that critics have called for.
The Chief Justice made the remarks at a conference and ceremony marking the 100th anniversary of the American Law Institute, a group best known for publishing treatises on various aspects of American law.
Roberts described his 15-minute after-dinner speech to hundreds of National Building Museum lawyers as the first of its kind since the pandemic hit. He took the opportunity to lament various recent events in the ‘legal community’, including the heckling and silence of a Stanford Law School appeals court judge last year and the protests that erupted at the homes of some Supreme Court justices last year after POLITICO released a draft opinion in a landmark abortion case and signaled the court was set to overturn Roe vs. Wadeas he did less than two months later.
Roberts also expressed disappointment that judges now need “24/7” protection by marshals. He said the security concerns related to last year’s seismic abortion incident, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organizationhad caused him great distress.
“People ask me: What was the hardest decision I’ve had to make in 18 years? Was it that First Amendment thing? Was it that death penalty case? Was it a major separation of powers case? None of those. The most difficult decision I had to make was whether or not to erect fences and barricades around the Supreme Court. I had no choice but to go ahead and do it,” Roberts said.
Roberts was introduced by Judge Elena Kagan, who effusively praised his judicial temperament and in particular his writing as she hailed him for receiving an award named after legendary appeals court judge Henry Friendly.
“The leader is incapable of writing a bad sentence. His writing has depth, intelligence, crystal clarity, grace, humor and an understated style,” Kagan said. “This writing is, in my humble opinion, the best writing in law. He is an accomplished legal craftsman.
Kagan acknowledged that she and Roberts often disagree on matters of substantive law, but she also alluded to the fact that she and the chief were alone at odds in a high-profile case decided last week. involving the estate of Andy Warhol and the right of artists to use the prior works of others as inspiration.
“There’s a lot of things the chef and I disagree on, except apparently on copyright where we’re two kindred spirits — even if they’re on our own,” Kagan said.
Kagan’s tone Tuesday night seemed a sign that public tensions between her and the chief have eased since last summer, when Kagan made a series of public appearances following Dobbs where she suggested that some of her fellow judges were expressing opinions to achieve a result they personally desired without regard to legal merit.
Roberts later said he thought it was inappropriate for people to publicly question the court’s legitimacy because they disagreed with a particular ruling, but Kagan continued to speak out. publicly and to suggest that the public’s doubts were justified.
Roberts insisted Tuesday night that the justices are keeping the peace among themselves despite their heated disagreements in some cases.
“I am happy to continue to say that there has never been a voice of anger in our boardroom. Our court is made up of nine people appointed by four presidents who deal with some of the most contentious issues in the country. , but we maintain a collegial relationship with each other,” the chief justice said, before acknowledging that the court has faced tensions and challenges lately.
“When I walk down the halls and see a co-worker, I’m always happy to have the chance to chat,” Roberts said, before adding wryly, “Now, to be fair, there are many days I don’t feel like walking down the halls.