Listening to the Valid: Chief Justice of the United States

Listening to the Chief Justice of the United States on October 17, 2012 at Rice University.

Last Wednesday, I was able to sit and listen to the Chief Justice of the United States, John Roberts. He spoke on several topics, most of which had to do with his philosophy of leading the court, advice to aspiring students and the process of congressional confirmation of a justice. There were many moments of the Q & A that were very informative and entertaining. He is a very interesting and certainly, intelligent man.

While the hosts were very clear to announce that the Chief Justice couldn’t talk about a case that has been before the court, is before the court or might come before the court, one of the subjects that the audience waited to hear about was the interaction of the justices on Supreme Court. He talked at length about the collegiality of the justices on the court. Perhaps the most telling moment was when he talked of the perceived political leanings of this justice or that justice. He said, “We look at these cases and resolve them . . . not in terms of a particular liberal or conservative agenda. It’s just easier for reporters to say that justice is liberal and that justice is conservative.” (1)

He told stories of other past courts and spoke at length about James Madison, the author of the constitution. He drove the point home that Madison and the founding fathers worked hard to separate the judicial branch from political leanings. He called the judicial branch the most transparent, having to write opinions about what they ruled upon. He said that they — Madison and others — recognized that the decisions that the justices would make wouldn’t necessarily be popular. Although judgements by the court reflect certain leanings of the culture and scientific thought of their time, he felt that the framers of the constitution didn’t want popularity of thought to enter into the discussion.

I’ve thought about that idea — popularity of thought influencing decisions. How many times have I worried about the popularity of an idea or plan? How often do I let something sway or move me into a comfortable and safe position rather than carry out the plan or idea that challenges and moves me to think differently?

Certainly, popularity influences thought. I like people to like me. I like people to respect me. I like my vocation and wish to keep doing it. Connecting and echoing popular thought can achieve those things. But, is there a time when I’m willing to throw caution to the wind and stand and listen to the valid thought and opinion and not just the safe one?

What the valid thought you are going to encounter today? Will you listen? Will you risk? Or, will you simply play it safe.

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