Roberts Touts Unanimity on Supreme Court

The Associated Press
Friday, November 17, 2006; 5:56 PM

WASHINGTON -- Chief Justice John Roberts went on national television this week to offer his view that the Supreme Court produces stronger decisions by being cautious rather than bold.

Roberts, speaking to an ABC News reporter on a stage at the University of Miami, said rulings that are decided on a 9-0 or 8-1 basis leave behind fewer question marks.

"The more cautious approach, the approach that can get the most justices to sign onto it, is the preferred approach," Roberts said. "It also contributes, I think, to stability in the law."

Roberts has repeatedly said since his nomination to the court last year that he would prefer to avoid narrowly divided votes.

But unanimity, or anything close to it, has not been easy to achieve. Just hours before Roberts' appearance in Florida, he presided at a court session in Washington at which the first written opinion of the term was issued.

Rather than the consensus that often accompanies early decisions, the ruling to uphold the death penalty for a California defendant was 5-4, with the court's conservatives in the majority and its four liberal justices in dissent.

The close vote underscored the difficulty of keeping harmony in the contentious cases the justices face each term. In Roberts' first year as head of the court, he scored some early successes with unanimous opinions, including rulings on abortion and campaign finance.

Still, the justices ended the term in late June with a raft of divided rulings on key cases, including one that called into question interrogations of suspected terrorists and declared illegal the Bush administration's plan for military tribunals for some detainees at the Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba. Congress has since endorsed the president's revised plans to interrogate and prosecute terror suspects.

Roberts did not mention the death penalty ruling in Florida, but he did explain why he describes his judicial philosophy as one of restraint and not activism.

Strong advocacy of political views belongs in the halls of Congress or at the White House and its agencies, he said. The nine Supreme Court justices and all other federal judges are given lifetime appointments to insulate them from such political pressures, he said.

"Not a single person voted for me. If you don't like what I do, it's kind of too bad," he said. "I'm not there to make judgments based on my personal policy positions."


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