Friday, September 16, 2005

Roberts and "Drawing the Line"

I watched some of the confirmation hearings on Chief Justice nominee John Roberts last night, and I was struck by one exchange in particular.

Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), brought up the fact that Judge Roberts had said, regarding one of the cases he had argued before the Supreme Court, that he would have taken the other side's case if they had approached him first.

Durbin went on to ask Judge Roberts where he would "draw the line." He specifically asked about the Colorado case in which Roberts had provided advice to a gay/lesbian group that was seeking to overturn a Colorado law. He asked Roberts if he would have taken the State's case if they had approached him first.

Roberts replied that he would, and referenced the words carved above the door of the Supreme Court.

Equal Justice Under the Law.

I just don't think he explained adequately.

The reason you, as a lawyer, take the state of Colorado's case (if approached by them) is simple.

If both sides of a case are not argued ably, and to their fullest extent, then what you wind up with is wishy-washy precedent, or worse, no precedent in a win by default. If you don't have an advocate who is able to put aside their personal views, and argue the merits of a case based upon the rule of law as it applies to your client, then you essentially, completely, and without fail reduce the argument to a moral one. Since Justice is Blind, then both sides of a case must have equal opportunity to have their case presented in a way which clearly and expertly outlines their view of the law.

After all, that's what courts are for. Roberts said that, when sworn in to the Supreme Court Bar, you are welcomed as "an officer of the Court," and in doing so he merely touched on the bigger picture. That being that "Equal Justice Under The Law," means equal opportunities for representation, consideration, support, and fair judgment; not just by the Judges or Justices deciding a case, but also by the attorneys arguing it.

Imagine, if you will, a time where the societal norms regard a certain group of people as less-deserving of certain rights. Those people are attempting to obtain access to the courts. Imagine, then, that everyone has done as Senator Dick Durbin would, and "draw the line" by not taking cases which are outside of society's generally accepted principles.

Would our system of justice mean anything at all to those people? I think not.

Now, I know, it sounds like I'm comparing Colorado's arguments with the plight of American black people after reconstruction. Truth is, I am, and I'm not. There's certainly no philosophical parallel between a state arguably wishing to deny someone's rights, and a group of people whose rights have been denied. But what we've got to do is recognize that their arguments must be given equal footing, equal opportunity to be heard.

If we don't do that, then we're allowing someone's subjective judgment to whip the blindfold from Justice's eyes. Dick Durbin might think that's a good thing, but if he thinks he's going to be the one who gets to do it, he'd probably find there are many, many groups in line ahead of him.

No comments: