HOUSTON — U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts said Wednesday that people shouldn’t think the high court’s justices make decisions in terms of a liberal or conservative agenda.
Roberts told a crowd of nearly 4,800 people at Rice University in Houston that many of the court’s close votes have had nothing to do with politics.
“We look at these cases and resolve them … not in terms of a particular liberal or conservative agenda,” he said. “It’s just easier for reporters to say that justice is liberal and that justice is conservative.”
From reading some of the court’s opinions, Roberts added, people may think that justices are “at each other’s throats.” But he said all the justices are “extremely close.”
Roberts, taking a break from the high court’s current term in Washington, talked in general about his work leading the nation’s highest court. But he didn’t discuss some of the court’s more recent high-profile cases — including voting to uphold much of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul.
Roberts, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, made headlines when he voted with the liberal justices in that 5-4 landmark decision. After that ruling, Roberts became the focus of criticism from some of the nation’s leading conservatives while liberals applauded his statesmanship.
Despite being in Texas, Roberts also didn’t discuss a case currently before the court involving the University of Texas at Austin and the use of race in college admissions that could lead to new limits on affirmative action. Roberts and the other justices heard arguments in the case last week. A decision is expected by late June.
But Roberts didn’t tease the crowd, saying he wouldn’t be discussing any past, present or future cases.
“So my remarks will be brief,” he said, eliciting laughter from the audience.
Roberts interjected humor throughout the hour-long event, in which he had a conversation with Rice University President David Leebron on a stage at the campus basketball arena before answering questions submitted on note cards from the audience. The discussion was part of events marking the school’s centennial.
One question asked what Roberts believes is the public’s biggest misperception of the court.
“People tend to think we are part of the government like everybody else. We have low approval ratings. But we’re better than Congress or the executive,” Roberts said, prompting laughter from the audience.
Other topics Roberts talked about included his confirmation before the U.S. Senate after being nominated to the Supreme Court. He described the process as not being “very edifying.” He also told the audience that he believes the judicial branch is the “most transparent” of the three branches of government.