Chief Justice John Roberts spoke publicly for the first time Tuesday about Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s contentious ascension to the U.S. Supreme Court, vowing to protect the Court’s independence and impartiality.
Delivering remarks at the University of Minnesota Law School, Roberts opened by alluding to Kavanaugh’s confirmation. He noted that the justices shake hands with one another before entering the courtroom for oral argument or gathering for private conferences, in keeping with a tradition established by Chief Justice Melville Fuller, who led the Court from 1888 to 1910.
“It’s a small thing, perhaps, but it is a repeated reminder that, as our newest colleague put it, we do not sit on opposite sides of an aisle, we do not caucus in separate rooms, we do not serve one party or one interest, we serve one nation,” the chief said, referencing remarks Kavanaugh made during his ceremonial installation at the White House.
“I want to assure all of you that we will continue to do that,” Roberts added.
He declined to expressly condemn the confirmation process, however, out of deference to the popular branches of government. Though Supreme Court justices are often asked about their confirmations in public, they usually couch their answers in general terms to avoid being seen as unduly partisan.
“I will not criticize the political branches,” Roberts said. “We do that often enough in our opinions. What I would like to do is emphasize how the judicial branch is and must be very different.”
“We do not speak for the people, but we speak for the Constitution,” he added.
Roberts explained that some of the Court’s finest moments came when it was at odds with public opinion. He specifically named Brown v. Board of Education and West Virginia v. Barnette, a 1943 decision which found schools cannot oblige students to recite the pledge of allegiance, as examples.
Kavanaugh participated in a session at the high court for the first time on Oct. 9. Normalcy prevailed despite the recent tension, as Kavanaugh and his new colleagues seemed in especially good spirits.