A Conversation on the Constitution: The Origin, Nature and Importance of the Supreme Court
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A Conversation on the Constitution: The Origin, Nature and Importance of the Supreme Court

September 9, 2019


NARRATOR: This video is a
project of the Annenberg Foundation Trust
at Sunnylands. ♪ MUSIC ♪ NARRATOR: On September 17th,
1787, delegates to the Constitutional Convention
signed our nation’s founding document in
Philadelphia. To better understand the role of
the courts in a democracy, 48 students from
12 Pennsylvania and California high schools
traveled to the Supreme Court of the United States
in December 2006 for a conversation with the
17th Chief Justice of the United States, John
G. Roberts, Jr. ♪ MUSIC ♪ CHIEF JUSTICE JOHN G. ROBERTS:
I’m delighted to have you here, I’m looking forward
to your questions… STUDENT: Why is it important
for the country to have courts in general and the Supreme
Court in particular? CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Well,
you know we’re very proud of the fact in our country
that we have a system that’s governed by
the rule of law, we like to say that, that
we are governed by the rule of law and not the
rule of men. The legal principles govern
not just all of us, but also the government
itself. Now if you’re going to have a system
that’s governed by the rule of law, you have to
have somebody to tell you what the law is. If
it were simply the, the leaders in government
who got to decide what the law was, that wouldn’t be
much of a constraint on them. And so the founding
fathers established the judiciary as the branch
that was going to carry out the responsibility
as John Marshall, who’s in the
next room I guess, said in his famous
decision in Marbury vs. Madison, the job of saying
what the law is. So that’s why we have courts.
The framers also, I think very wisely,
decided we would have one Supreme Court, to make
sure that you didn’t have conflicting decisions in
different courts around the country, but that
the Constitution and the federal laws would mean
the same thing in every part of the country. So it
was important not only to set up courts, but also
to establish one Supreme Court to make
sure that the, the rule of law
meant the same thing in every part
of the country. STUDENT: Why do you think the
founders spent less time on the Constitution talking about
the courts and more time talking about Congress
and the presidency? CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Oh, I… I
think it was because they had a pretty good idea and
understanding of what a court was and how it
functioned. You know, when you look
around the world today, we’re trying to do
what we can to help new democracies get
established. One of the hardest things to do is
to establish independent courts that will apply the
rule of law because they don’t have a tradition of
courts doing that. We were fortunate coming
from the English, the British model,
they had courts that implemented the rule
of law. We had some disagreements with how
they were set up and everything, but they
understood what a court applying the law fairly
would look like. So they didn’t have to spend a lot
of time talking about it. What they were doing
in the other branches, you know, a
chief executive, a president that
was not like a king; that was pretty different.
So they spent a fair amount of time talking
about the president’s powers. The same
thing with Congress; the two different
branches of Congress, the Senate and the House
and the great compromise that allowed the small
states to feel comfortable joining a union
with the big states; that was also pretty new.
So they spent a lot of time on that and they
were very concerned about protecting individual
liberties. So a lot of the limits in the Constitution
go to that. So I… I think it’s pretty
understandable that they spent more time on
the other parts of the Constitution than on
the… on the judiciary. STUDENT: How do cases get to
you, to the Supreme Court? CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Well… a lot
of people want to bring their case to the Supreme Court.
…Whenever you hear somebody has a
dispute on… on the law, they always say, well I’m
going to take it all the way to the Supreme Court.
We get almost 10,000 cases every year, of
people who want their case to be decided by the
Supreme Court and we hear fewer then 100 of those,
less one percent. But you have to file a document
that we look at and we decide; is this
one of the cases, is this going to be one of
the say 90 most important cases for us to decide
this year? And usually what we’re looking for, I
mean I mentioned earlier the purpose of having one
Supreme Court is to make sure that the law is
the same throughout the country. So if you get a
dispute where courts are applying one principle
of law differently in one part of the country
than in another part, that’s the kind of case
we’re likely to take. We say it’s a conflict among
the lower courts and we’d like to resolve
that and say, well, we know the courts
say in Philadelphia are coming out one way and the
court in San Francisco is coming out a
different way, we should resolve that.
So if you say that in your petition, they’re
called petitions those 10,000 or so
we get every year, we’ll take a look at that
and decide that might be one of the cases
that we would… hear to try to
resolve that dispute. STUDENT: My question is, Gideon
wrote a letter to the Supreme Court requesting to be heard and
he was heard. How often does that happen and what gave
him the right to do that? CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS:
Well the letter he wrote was
considered by the Court, just like one of
those 10,000 petitions I was talking
about. It was unusual in that it was handwritten
and just kind of sent in, most of the ones we get
are… nicely printed up and bound and more formal.
But it’s the same basic principle, he had a
particular issue and a dispute and he wrote about
it and complained about it and we looked
at it, not we, it was of course long
before my time. But the Court decided it was one
of the cases it ought to look at that year and
hear argument on… on the merits. So the process
was unusual in that you’re dealing with a prisoner
who’s writing on his own, not somebody represented
by a lawyer familiar with all the rules. But
the basic principle, that you have a right to
petition the Supreme Court to have it
review your case, is the same principle
that applies in all the other
situations as well. STUDENT: And my question is;
does it make a difference to the Supreme Court if a
case comes through the federal court system or
the state system? JUSTICE ROBERTS: It… it
does, we get both. You know, it’s an interesting thing
when the Constitution was established, the
states were there already, there were already state
courts. Many of the state courts are older than the
federal courts and older than the Supreme
Court. And the people establishing the
Constitution didn’t want to interfere with
those state courts, but they thought you
needed federal courts too, you were going to have a
new Federal Constitution, new federal laws, there
ought to be federal courts to interpret
those. So you, we have in our country
both federal courts and state courts. We hear
decisions from both types of courts, I don’t
know exactly what the proportion is, but
probably a little bit more than half come from
the federal courts and a smaller number,
but a big number, from the different state
courts. The reason is that you can get a question
of the constitutionality of a law, coming up from
the state courts or the federal courts. The state
court in Pennsylvania, the… the highest court
in Pennsylvania might decide that a particular
issue, for example, a particular practice
violates the 4th Amendment to the Federal
Constitution. Well we want to make sure the 4th
Amendment is interpreted the same way
around the country, so we might decide to look
at that… that case. The federal court that
covers Pennsylvania, it’s called
the 3rd Circuit, might also decide an issue
and so we could take a case from… from there.
State courts though, have the final word on the
interpretation of state law. If your legislature
in… in Pennsylvania passes a law and there’s a
question about what that state law means, the state
Supreme Court has the final say about that, we
won’t look at that. But if it’s a question of whether
it’s consistent with the Federal Constitution,
that’s… that’s one of the cases we might
take a look at. STUDENT: My question
was, how does the Court actually decide which
cases it wants to hear? CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Well it’s…
it’s an interesting thing… there are nine of
us, nine Justices, but it only takes four
votes to… to hear a case. The reason is, we’re
not deciding how the case should come out, we’re
really just deciding is this important enough for
us to look at and have the lawyers
file… file briefs, have them come and give
argument in the courtroom right across the… across
the hall. So you don’t have to win at that point,
you’re just trying to get in the door. And… it
only takes four votes, what we do is
we sit through, we read these petitions,
we have law clerks who help us write memos about
what the petitions say and we look at those memos.
And we get together every week and vote on which
cases we should hear. Now you’re thinking;
there’s 10,000 of them, that’s
200 a week, do we really sit and
talk about 200 cases every week? And the
answer is no, we send memos
around earlier saying, of these 200 cases, these
are the 10 that I think we should talk about. And
another Justice might send another memo
around saying; well, let’s talk
about these two others in addition. So we have a
smaller number that we think really are worth
talking about and we’ll do that. We sit at, in
the conference room, all nine of us around the
table. We talk about the cases and we vote and if
they get four votes to hear the case, then we’ll
set it up for argument and have briefs and… and
hear from the lawyers and then decide it on the
merits later on. STUDENT: When you argued
cases before the Supreme Court, how did you
prepare? Can you tell us about the process from
that side of the bench? CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS:
Sure… sure. The one thing I can tell you
is I was very nervous; it’s very nerve-racking
to… to argue a case in the Supreme Court. I mean,
you have the nine Justices who’ve spent a lot of time
reading the briefs and studying the cases. And if
you’ve ever been here to hear an argument, and if
you haven’t you should, it’s… it’s I think a
fascinating part of the process that you can
really look at. The Justices have dozens
and dozens of questions, very hard questions, often
in… in an hour argument, it’s typical for us
to have more than 100 questions for the lawyers.
And you have to be prepared to answer them
and they’re going to be difficult questions,
it’s… it’s not an easy… there are no
softballs… there. And so the way I prepared, when
I used to do this and the way most lawyers do is,
they practice that. You get nine other… of your
colleagues or friends or other lawyers who know
something about the case, to pretend that they’re
Justices and ask you as many questions as they
can think of. And it gets you… more comfortable
answering the questions. It… it gives you
a little forecast, you say, ah they
think that’s… that’s an important question so I
should be prepared to answer it. And you get
practice… fielding the different… questions.
It… it’s never a good substitute for the actual
day of the argument, I mean it’s a little bit
different… when you’re actually there in front
of the Justices… with the… the outcome of the
case in… in the balance. But I found doing that
type of practice is… is helpful to get… to
get ready for it. STUDENT: Could you explain
to us the process that takes place from arguing a
case before the Justices to the final ques…
the final decision? CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Yeah. STUDENT: How does a
Justice decide what his or her decision will be? Do
Justices… talk with each other after they
heard, they have just heard a case? Do they
try to persuade each other? Lastly, how does a
court decide who will write for the minority
and for the majority? CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Sure,
what… what happens… once we vote and decide we’re
going to hear this case, okay, four votes, we’re
going to hear it. Then a briefing schedule is set
up and the lawyers have to file briefs which are
really just… papers explaining why they should
win or… or why the other side should lose. All of
the Justices read those on their own, we don’t really
talk much about the cases before the
actual argument; we’re sitting there
reading these briefs. The one side files its brief
and then a month or so later, the other
side files a diff… a different brief saying
everything the… the other guy told you is all
wrong and here’s the right answer. Then the other,
the first guy gets a chance to file a reply
brief and we read all those briefs. We get a
lot of briefs from other people who are
interested in the case, they’re not
necessarily involved, but their organization
is interested; these are called amicus
briefs. They all come in. The interesting
thing about it, we get so many briefs that
in order to keep it easy to figure out which…
which brief you’re reading, they all have
to be different colors. The… the opening
brief… the opening brief has to have a blue cover.
The… other side’s brief has to have a red cover.
The reply brief has to have a yellow cover.
And these amicus briefs, if you agree with
the petitioner, the… the person who
filed the first brief, you have a… you have a
light green cover. And if you agree with
the respondent, the person who’s…
filed the second brief, you have a
dark green cover, so you always know
what type of brief you’re reading. But
we read those, maybe we talk to
our clerks about it, you know, what do you
think about this argument, what do you think about
that argument? We go back to the books, if you go
into any of our offices, you’ll see the walls are
lined with these books that are the
Supreme Court decisions, the other federal
court decisions, other state court
decisions. And we look up… to try to find cases
that are like this one and how did that
case come out, what did the Justices say
then? And we get ready for the argument and then
an argument’s set for a particular day and we
usually haven’t talked about it among ourselves.
We go out to the argument and then… for
the first time, through the questions we
learn what each other of the Justices thinks
about the case. You know, Justice Ginsburg might
ask some questions and you suddenly think, oh, she
thinks this is a… a problem, maybe I hadn’t
thought of that as a problem before. So you
start thinking about it a little more and… maybe
Justice Souter will ask a question in a different
direction and the lawyers will try to give the right
answers or answers that help them and you can
see how… how good those answers sound. You
might have particular questions… when you were
looking into the case, you thought, well, I
wasn’t really sure whether that lawyer made the right
objection when the case was tried, so I’ll
ask that question, and you ask. You say, well
counsel… did you object to this below and if so…
where in the record? And you have to be able to
say… page 258 of the appendix, you’ll see
that, in the transcript, I made that objection
or I didn’t. Well, why not? And… then the
argument ends and we go twice a week, when
we’re hearing arguments, we have what’s called
a conference. We hear arguments Monday, Tuesday
and Wednesday and on Wednesday afternoon we
have a conference about the cases we heard on
Monday. And Friday we have conference about the cases
we heard on Tuesday and Wednesday. And again, it’s
just the nine of us around the table and
we go in order, I get to start,
so I will say, we heard argument in
this case about the 4th Amendment from
Pennsylvania and this is what happened. This is
what the arguments are and I think we should reverse
the court because I think they got it wrong.
Next Justice Stevens, who’s the next
in seniority, he’ll say what he
thinks and he’ll say, well… maybe he
agrees with me, maybe he disagrees. If he
disagrees he’ll say why. He says, I think this case
shows we ought to affirm, and they’ll explain why
and then on down the line, Justice Scalia next,
Justice Kennedy next, Justice Souter, all
in order of seniority, and we talk about it.
We’ve a very strict rule that nobody gets to talk
twice until everyone’s talked once because you
can imagine with nine people sitting around,
otherwise everybody just starts talking at once. So
we go pretty much in… in order and then we vote
and that’s our tentative decision. Now… you asked
how did… who decides who gets to write the opinion?
That’s really the only special power I, as
the Chief Justice, have. I get to decide who
writes the opinion for the Court, so let’s say it’s
six to three and at the end of that week
I’ll go back and say, well… Justice so-and-so
should write the opinion in this case. Justice
so-and-so should write it in this. Now if
I’m in the minority, if I’m… if I’m with
the three and not with the six, then the most senior
of the other Justices gets to assign the opinion.
Then we will occasionally talk about it, you know,
you see it… Justices either in writing,
talk about it in writing, write memos saying…
I… you made a point at conference that you
thought it should be affirmed for this reason,
but what about this case, that seems to go the other
way? I think we should reverse it and send that
around and people reconsider it. It’s not
at all unusual for us to change our minds as a
result of that process and somebody’s trying to write
the opinion. The opinion is an important part of
the decision process. It’s not like we decided
finally at six to three and now we’re… write one
opinion that says why and another opinion that says,
why you think it should come out the other way. In
the course of writing the opinion, the Justices
might decide that that’s not quite right, I
thought this was the case, but I had to write it
down and as I wrote it, it became clear that maybe
this should come out the other way and people will
change their minds. And once all the opinions have
circulated around and the other Justices have joined
one opinion or the other, when it’s finally
ready to come out, we’ll go into court
during an argument day and announce it. And I’ll say,
today… Justice so-and-so has the opinion of
the court in this case, this 4th Amendment case
from Pennsylvania and that Justice will
read a summary, the opinion might
be 20 pages long, but they’ll just give a
short summary announcing the decision. And that becomes
part of the law of the land. CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS:
I think Justices change their minds a
lot of times throughout the
whole process, cert… you read
the first brief…, the blue one,
and you think, that sounds right, the
court really got that wrong. Then the red brief
comes in and you read that and you say, well
those are good arguments, I hadn’t thought of that.
Now it doesn’t look so clear. Then you go to the
argument and maybe at the argument you learn
something new from the lawyer or you learn
something from the questions that your fellow
Justices are asking and you say, well now it does
look like they… they got that wrong. Then you
have to sit down at the conference table and you
have to explain what you think ought to happen and
you listen to the other Justices and sometimes,
quite often… they have particular
points. You say, oh, I see that a
little bit differently, you can ask
them questions, they can ask you
questions. And again you might change your mind
at that stage. Then the opinion comes
around, okay, I’m tentatively voting
that we should affirm and assign the opinion to
somebody and the opinion comes and you
read it and you say, well that doesn’t
sound quite right, I’m not quite persuaded.
And then the dissent comes and that’s arguing the
other way and you say, well that sounds a
little more persuasive, maybe I should change at
that point. So at any part of the process, the
Justices do change their minds as… as new
information or as they learn more about it or
they hear more what their colleagues think. It
affects the… the ultimate decision… quite
often… quite often. STUDENT: I understand
that you spoke about opinions and who’s
assigned to write and deliver it, but my
question is, why is it important and why is it
necessary to deliver an opinion? CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS:
I… I, it’s… it’s critical for a couple
of reasons. One is that it helps us
decide the case correctly, I mean it’s no different
than if you get a bunch of friends together and
you’re trying to figure out some issue whether
for debate or something, what should the answer be?
You can talk about it and kind of decide
it and you say, fine. If you have to sit
down and explain it… it causes you to focus
your thinking quite a bit, I think. And if you have
to explain it in a way that’s going to be
understandable to other people, that helps make
sure that you’re reaching the right decision, it’s
not just the result of some… casual
conversation, but you actually have to explain
it. And sometimes when you do that, you’re
going to find…, now that I have
to write it up, it doesn’t seem as clear
to me as it did when we were just talking about
it. So it helps us reach the right decision, it
explains our answer. One of the real issues
in a democracy is, who are those nine people
that nobody voted for, telling me that we, I
can’t do this or that the government can’t do
this? And this is our explanation, this is
why we do it. People in Congress, they don’t have
to tell you why they do anything, the answer is…
because… 200,000 people voted for me in
the House or because millions of people voted
for me to send me to the Senate and that’s why I
get to do what I want to do, represent those
people. Well that’s not true in our case. We’re
doing something because the law requires it
and here we’re going to explain it to you, we
have to explain it, they don’t. The
other thing is, it makes it easy for the
other judges and lawyers to understand what the law
is. That’s going to become one of those things in all
those books that are on our walls. And so when a
judge in… in Los Angeles or in
Pennsylvania, wherever, has a question come up,
he can look back and see, well, what did the Supreme
Court say about that? Here’s what they
said, here’s the reason, does this, is this the
same sort of case as I’ve got here? They’ve spelled
it all out and you can check it and see, so it’s important
for that… respect as well. STUDENT: Thank you. CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Sure. STUDENT: In your
opinion, who was the greatest Supreme Court
Chief Justice and why? CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Well
that’s an easy question… Every lawyer that you ask would give you
the, should give you the same answer and that’s John
Marshall. He was not the first Chief Justice, he
was actually the fourth, but he was the first one
to serve for a long period of time and he really
established the Supreme Court. I mean, somebody
asked the question earlier, why didn’t the
framers spend more time talking about the courts?
They didn’t and so the role that the courts were
going to play was pretty uncertain to some extent,
they knew what a court was like. They knew what
judges looked like and what they did,
but how prominent, how important the Supreme
Court was going to be, that was pretty
unsettled, so much so, you can look, you can
see it in the architecture here. The first building
they built when they moved the capitol to Washington
was the White House, for the executive branch,
the President. The second building they
started, the Capitol, for the
legislative branch, the Congress. The third
building they started was the Patent Office. What…
what happened to the courts, where’s… where’s
the Supreme Court? The Supreme Court Building,
the one you’re in now, was the first one and it
was completed in 1935. The Supreme Court met in the
basement of the Capitol… for much of its early…
early existence. So the role of the Court
wasn’t… wasn’t settled. John Marshall settled it;
he made it clear that its job was to decide, as he
put it famously in Marbury vs. Madison, what the law
is. He made it clear that the decisions of the
Supreme Court were binding on the state courts.
Remember the state courts, as I said, were, they
were here before the Constitution. It wasn’t
clear… whether they were going to have the final
say or these new federal courts, including the
Supreme Court. And through a long series of decisions
over his long tenure, he established the Supreme
Court as the final arbiter of what the Constitution
means. The one that was, the branch that was going
to make a decision that was going to be binding,
not only on the citizens, but also on the states
and also importantly, on the federal
government itself, so everyone would give the
same answer. John Marshall was the great, he’s called
The Great Chief Justice, he’s in a league of
his own and he was a remarkable man. I mean
even lawyers who know, oh, he’s a great
Chief Justice, he was responsible for
establishing the role of the Supreme Court, don’t
fully know all that he did. He was,
among other things, a war hero. He fought
at Washington’s side… under… great personal
danger to his life. He was instrumental in getting
the Constitution ratified, convincing the Virginia
legislature to vote in favor of it, which
was a close thing, people don’t realize that
the vote in favor of the Constitution… came down
to some critical votes in a number of states. And
he was largely responsible for getting it passed in
Virginia which… was a very important state at
the time of the founding and of course Virginians
would say still is. So it’s, that’s… that’s
an easy answer I think, everybody would agree John
Marshall. You get a lot of debate over
who’s number two, but not over
who’s number one. STUDENT: I know you already
spoke about what you felt was one of your
most important roles or responsibilities as far
as delegating who writes the opinions, but I was
wondering if you feel that, what are any other special roles
or duties the Chief Justice has? CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS:
Well you’re right, the… assigning the
opinions is the most, one of the more important
ones. You know I have the responsibility of
presiding at… at the Court… at Court…
calling the Court to session and… making sure
the lawyers… don’t go beyond their time and
trying to referee when the other eight Justices all
want to ask questions at the same time. I have
the responsibility of… presiding at
conference too, starting the discussion
and kind of laying out what the issue is before
stating what my views are. Beyond that, there are
certain administrative responsibilities; I
have to try to get the necessary money out of
Congress every year for the Court’s budget, and
I… I have a certain responsibility
to… defend judicial independence and the rule
of law. It’s very hard sometimes for judges, when
they’re under attack for being, delivering say
unpopular decisions which is very much part of our
job. You wouldn’t want judges or courts that
just did what was… was popular. The Constitution
is designed to protect people who are unpopular
as well as the popular, and they have to go to
court and get that type of protection from the
judges. So it’s hard for a judge who’s making
unpopular decisions sometimes to defend
herself or himself and… and I view that as part
of my responsibility too, to… to make sure
that judges are… not criticized unfairly when
they’re doing… doing their job and also to make
sure that they are getting from Congress
the sort of resources they need
to… to do their job. STUDENT: Why do we
have nine Supreme Court Justices and is
that a good number? CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS:
Congress gets to set the number, it’s not in
the Constitution and we’ve had fewer than nine,
we’ve even had more then nine… at different
points in our… history. But it’s been nine for a
long time and I… I think it’s… it’s a good
number. I think anything more is too many, you want
it to be an odd number because otherwise you
don’t want to be dividing up… four to four as
happens sometimes if one of the Justices, for
one reason or another, can’t hear the case, it
sometimes comes out four to four and that’s not a
good thing. So you want it to be an odd number and
I would say that the two most likely candidates are
either seven or nine and I think nine
makes a lot of sense. STUDENT: I want us to know
how the Court interprets the Constitution… when
it’s hard to know what the founding fathers meant
sometimes and in light of modern issues that may
not be covered by the founding fathers
in the document? CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Sure,
sure. No and that’s… that’s, it’s not only an issue
we confront all the time, but I think we’re, we
get more and more of those cases as… technology
changes. For example… the 4th Amendment says…
searches and seizures have to be reasonable. The
issue came up when we… first had telephones
and… people were able to tap into telephones
and hear. Well is that a search or seizure under
the 4th Amendment? Well the founding fathers,
not even Jefferson, thought about telephones,
so how can you, you know, how do you
say what they meant to, how the… how the 4th
Amendment should apply to something they never
thought of? And the answer is partly in what we
were just talking about, you go back to the…
precedents and see how they applied the
Constitution to new developments. You know,
I’m not sure I’ve got my history straight here yet,
but I don’t think there were railroads when they
wrote the Constitution or they were just coming
in or… there certainly weren’t automobiles
alright? But automobiles, does that constitute
interstate commerce or not and the… and you
see cases saying, well, sure it’s just
simply another way of traveling and they were
familiar with that and they applied the
principles of the commerce clause to travel, so
why should it make a difference how quickly you
get to travel or by what means? The same
thing with the airplane, you say, well the founding
fathers never thought of the airplane, well it’s
not terribly different other than in terms of
efficiency from means of travel with which they
were familiar. And what were they trying to do in
the 4th Amendment… in terms of protecting
people’s privacy and… and requiring judges to
issue search warrants before you intrude upon
their privacy. Well isn’t tapping into the phones,
isn’t that an intrusion on their privacy to the same
extent as sort of like listening in on a private
conversation in a… in the house? And wouldn’t
they have wanted the same principles to apply? So…
it’s not easy when you take something that
wasn’t familiar to them, it’s easier when it is
something that and you can apply it directly. But
things like the… the internet, I mean should…
how does the 1st Amendment apply to the… the
internet? And you try to think, well, is that just
like the newspapers with which they were
familiar or is it somehow different, and the lawyers
will argue that. The lawyer on one
side will say, this is just like a
pamphlet you know, when you… you
put… put a blog out, it’s just like people
circulating pamphlets and they knew a lot more, they
had a lot of pamphlets back at the time of the
founding. But the lawyer on the other side
is going to say no, this is a lot different…
it’s… it’s more like saying a ra… radio or
television and we have a… a greater tradition
of regulating… radio and television than we do
regulating pamphlets. So you ought to apply
different laws and they’ll go back just as I
was saying earlier, to those precedents and
try to find the ones that they think fit
most closely. STUDENT: My question is; do
judges find it harder to look at a convicted
murderer in the same light as someone
presumed innocent? CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: The answer
is… is surprisingly enough… no, it… it depends on what
the claim is. If the claim of the convicted murderer
is that I’m innocent… you know he’s, as I said,
the… the presumption or you said, the presumption
of innocence applies and we’re going to consider…
consider his claim. You know the Constitution
protects not just the… the innocent but the
guilty as well and gives them certain protections
along the way that… we enforce even when… if
we think that they’re guilty… and… and are
going to be found guilty at the end of the day
because that’s the only way you protect the
innocent. If you require that someone can’t be
convicted… unless a… a fair jury votes in
favor of his conviction, that’s because when
somebody who’s actually innocent goes before,
is charged with a crime, you want that person
to have the same… protections. The same
with… with anything else, the… the system
is set up to be applied to people you might think
are guilty and people you might think are innocent
because you’re not always right and the system is
designed to make sure that before somebody is
convicted… that they have all the… all
the protections that the framers… set forth.
Now… I don’t like and I don’t think my colleagues
like ruling in favor of somebody who
probably is guilty, maybe has done some
very horrifying things, but if they’ve had their
rights violated under the Constitution, it’s our job
to make sure that those rights are…
are vindicated. STUDENT: Are there any
misconceptions about the Supreme Court or
courts in general that you would
like to correct? CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS:
You know I… I do think there are a lot of
misconceptions about… about
courts. There are a lot of misconceptions
about my job, a lot of people think if
you’re the… the Chief Justice, you… you get
more votes then the other Justices. I don’t, I
get one vote just like everybody else and
there are a lot of misconceptions about what
the Court does. They think when we issue a
decision for example, we’re taking a position
on whether we think something’s a good idea or
not. We almost never are in a position to do that.
The… the point was made earlier about… how…
how do you feel issuing a… a ruling in favor if
somebody’s been convicted and is guilty? Well it
doesn’t mean we… think that’s a good
thing what he did, it… but it’s a way
of enforcing the law in that… in that particular
case. When we say that the 1st Amendment
allows something, it doesn’t mean that we
think it’s a good idea… or that we support it.
When we say that a law that Congress passes
is constitutional, again that doesn’t
mean that if we were in Congress, we would
vote for that law, we might think it’s a
terrible idea. But that’s not the question
and I think there’s a misconception when we
issue our decisions that we’re saying, this is a
good thing or this is a bad thing or we’re in
favor of this or we’re opposed to that, when in
fact we’re just issuing a decision on the law.
And that all of those decisions about what’s a
good idea and what’s a bad idea, what types of
laws we should have, what we should be doing as
a matter of public policy, that doesn’t get decided
here. That gets decided in the bigger building
across the street, in Congress or… or in…
in the White House. And so I think that’s one
area where I think people sometimes have
the misconception, you know, the Supreme
Court’s in favor of this or in favor of that. We…
we always try to separate ourselves from whatever
the… the issue is and decide it just on the
basis of… of the law. Thank you very much,
thank you very much, I really enjoyed that.
Thanks. ♪ MUSIC ♪

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