Being able to watch history taking place is an experience that literally gives me chills. Overshadowed – and rightfully so – by Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, history is being made in our nation's capitol with the confirmation hearings of Judge John Roberts. Roberts, in case you didn't know, just finished confirmation hearings to take one of the most coveted and respected positions in our government, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. And I love it. So should you.
Why? Because once every generation or so, individuals get an opportunity to watch our government truly shift and evolve into a new form – for better or worse. Electing the president is a very important act for our nation, but overall, the president is just an instrument that will change every four to eight years. Some presidents leave more of a mark on our nation than others, but no matter what, they can only be with us for a set amount of time. In the case of the Supreme Court, eight years can prove to be an inconsequential amount of time, because membership in our nation's highest court is for a lifetime.
The late Chief Justice William Rehnquist had been a member of the court since 1971, first as an associate justice and later as chief justice, spanning 34 years with his influence on our nation's judicial system. During that time, we had seven different presidents in the White House, and countless members of the Senate and House of Representatives.
The hearings that took place last week are very important for our generation and generations to come because the decisions the Court makes now will affect our nation for many years to come. There are still decisions used as judicial precedents now that were originally ruled on in the 18th century; thus, the choice of who becomes our nation's new Chief Justice is quite significant to our nation now and most likely, forever.
Personally, I think Judge Roberts will prove to be a moderate choice for the position. He will be replacing a highly conservative justice in Rehnquist, an individual who dissented in the ruling on Roe v. Wade, a privacy case that has been driving abortion rights in our country since the Court's ruling. Abortion has been one of the main focuses of the confirmation hearings, as Senators on the Judiciary Board have done their best to tease out Roberts' opinion on the subject. It scares many people, including myself, that anyone would consider overturning Roe, but even if Roberts does in fact vote to overturn the case in the future, he is just one vote and could not single-handedly change the law. Hinting toward the subject of Roe, Roberts has stated he plans to respect the judicial precedents set before him, an indication that he may vote in favor of the precedent, if not the spirit, of the law.
Roberts also has refused to answer many questions throughout the hearings, avoiding any answers that would affect issues that may be in front of the Supreme Court in the next few years. Some believe he has done this to avoid being pegged as a hardcore right-winger, yet he contends it is because he does not know how he will rule on the issues, for he does not know the merits of the cases that may come before him.
Whatever his rulings may be in the future, I respect him for not pre-ruling cases to gain political favor on either side of the aisle. Judges are supposed to be impartial, and Roberts' actions in his hearing last week show me he will do his best to let merits and not politics, drive his future decisions. That, in a nutshell, is the principle responsibility for any judge, especially those in our highest court.
No matter your politics and beliefs, what is taking place in Washington now is history our children will learn about in textbooks years from now. So do them a favor and pay attention to what takes place with the present hearing, and the hearing that will take place to fill the other hole in the Supreme Court left by retiring Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Pay attention now, and you might just be able to help them with their homework in the future.
Jake Blumberg is a sophomore technical journalism and political science double major. His column runs every Monday.