Chief Justice John Roberts criticized the confirmation process for Supreme Court justices during a speech at the University Tuesday.
“I think the process is broken down,” Roberts said of the procedure that requires judicial nominees to appear before the Senate.
Roberts said that senators involved in the televised hearings have made them more about political theater than learning the qualifications of a nominee. “The process is a vehicle for them to make statements about what is important to them,” he said.
The nation’s top jurist called on the legislative branch to change the conduct of the hearings. “The process is not very fruitful. The only people who can change it are the senators who run it, and I hope they do,” he said.
Roberts also questioned the need for Supreme Court justices to attend the annual State of the Union address.
“To the extent to the State of the Union has degenerated into a political pep rally, I’m not sure why we’re there,” he said.
In his State of the Union address earlier this year, President Barack Obama criticized the Supreme Court for a recent ruling striking down regulations limiting corporate contributions in elections. Obama’s condemnation brought many members of Congress to their feet, a moment Roberts said was of concern to him.
“The image of having the members of one branch of government standing up, literally surrounding the Supreme Court, cheering and hollering while the court — according the requirements of protocol — has to sit there expressionless, I think is very troubling.”
However, Roberts did not insist on immunity from condemnation. “People should feel perfectly free to criticize what we do,” he said.
Roberts’ appearance, which C-SPAN broadcast live, made him the ninth Supreme Court justice to appear at the University since 1996 to present the Albritton Lecture. Of the sitting justices, only Justices John Paul Stevens and Sonia Sotomayor, who was confirmed in 2009, have not spoken at the Capstone.
The chief justice’s visit attracted a capacity crowd to the law school’s McMillan Lecture Hall, and the law school used three additional classrooms to handle the overflow. After his speech in the main hall, Roberts visited each overflow classroom to take a few questions from attendees who could not gain entrance to the main lecture.
Law student Jay Wright said he was pleased that the chief justice visited Tuscaloosa and allotted time at the end of the lecture for questions.
“It’s not every day that the Chief Justice comes down and you have the opportunity to ask questions,” Wright said.
During the question-and-answer session, Roberts took questions ranging from his reading list to how he balances his roles of jurist and father. Wright said he appreciated Roberts’ candor.
“It was really fascinating to hear how such an intellectual guy approaches the law.”
William J. Tucker contributed reporting.