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The Roberts Court Is In Touch With Its Feelings

John G. Roberts's metrosexual style was the subject of much comment during his confirmation hearings as Chief Justice. And now that he's presiding over the Court as Chief Justice, he has brought a kinder and gentler sensibility to its proceedings.


Linda Greenhouse, doing her best impression of Elisabeth Bumiller (or maybe even Robin Givhan), reports:

john%20roberts%20headshot.jpgThis is the week that the Supreme Court, done with its regular argument sessions, enters the stretch run. While it is too soon for substantive appraisals of the first year of the Roberts court, it is not too soon for stylistic observations about what is clearly, in the view of lawyers who have appeared there this term, a different court...

In common with every other Supreme Court specialist contacted for this article, [Georgetown] Professor [Richard] Lazarus listed several obvious changes. "They're not stepping on each other," he said of the justices. "They take longer before someone asks the first question. They give the lawyers more time to answer."

[A] different dynamic seems to prevail throughout entire arguments. With justices sitting back and allowing colleagues to ask follow-up questions, and with lawyers given an actual chance to answer, there is a new coherence and civility to the sessions.

Well isn't that special. The justices are now so... polite!

"Oh goodness, Ruthie, I'm sorry I interrupted you!" "Not at all, Nino, I was pretty much done -- you go right ahead!"

Additional reflections appear after the jump.

You might be thinking this sounds all well and good. But isn't something lost under this new model of civility? Doesn't anyone miss the robust intellectual sparring of the Rehnquist court, when men were men and Chief Justices were Chief Justices?

On that subject, Greenhouse continues:

The chief justice is a more active questioner than his predecessor, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, and his style is quite different. "Rehnquist told you what he thought," [litigator Carter] Phillips said.

"[Rehnquist] wasn't struggling to figure out the case. Roberts doesn't tip his hand as much. He asks hard questions of both sides without communicating his own preference."

Roberts failing to "communicate his own preference"? Tell us about it!

In another distinction between the Roberts and Rehnquist styles, Chief Justice Roberts is reliably said to be presiding over the justices' private after-argument conferences with a lighter hand, not watching the clock as closely and permitting more conversation.

In short, Chief Justice Roberts is presiding over the Oprah-fication of the Supreme Court. "So, Clarence, how does federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act make you FEEL?"

Boys and girls, it's official: John G. Roberts is the Court's first Emo Chief. God save the United States and this touchy-feely Court!

In the Roberts Court, More Room for Argument [NYT]

Earlier: Roberts Probably Straight (Not That There's Anything Wrong with That)

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