With the rancor of the final week of the Supreme Court term freshly in mind, Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. offered a message on Saturday that can be read as an effort to heal wounds as his colleagues leave for farflung summer destinations. Continuing his predecessor's practice, Roberts spoke before the 4th Circuit Judicial Conference at its now biennial meeting, this year at the Greenbrier in West Virginia. His talk can be viewed on C-SPAN.
The late William Rehnquist would always offer to the 4th Circuit a quick summary of the lesser-known decisions of the previous term, which he described, quoting a Thomas Gray poem, as flowers "born to blush unseen." But Roberts said that tradition, along with Rehnquist's gold-striped judicial robe, are "very much his own and should not be imitated."
Instead, Roberts quoted Robert Frost poems titled "The Tuft of Flowers" and "Mending Wall" to draw some conclusions about judicial fellowship. "I'm not an expert on Frost," said Roberts, "but an important part of fellowship is ongoing inquiry, examination and debate."
The aim should be consensus, he added, but when that can't be achieved, Roberts said, disagreements should be "carefully and civilly explored in good faith." When that occurs, Roberts added, "judges remain colleagues, neighbors and friends." Ongoing debate, Roberts concluded, is "one of the essential bases for our strong and enduring fellowship." Nice ideal, but there may still be some bruised feelings from some of that debate lest week, including some exchanges excerpted in a Legal Times article here (registration required.)