Chief Justice Roberts Quote About Originalism at University of Alabama

March 10th, 2010

Yesterday, Chief Justice Roberts gave an address at the University of Alabama, and he made some brief comments that affect his views on originalism. The podcast is available here. Tune to about 35:00.

I could not find a transcript of this discussion, so I did my best to transcribe the podcast as accurately as I could. I apologize for any errors.

Question: How has your background in history  prepared you for the law? [Not exact quote]

Chief Justice Roberts: History works good for me because, because first of all that is what we do. First thing we do when we get a case is look at the precedents, we look at the history. What have we done before? I also think, on a more fundamental level, it is critically important to understand what the people who drew up our original documents, the Framers of the Constitution, what they were thinking of, what their experience was when they did that. The same with respect to the Civil War generation who drafted the Civil War Amendments, you know what was driving them.¬† It’s not always determinative. They wrote certain texts and that is what guides us. But I think in understanding what that means, you do need to understand the history behind it.

This sounds an awful lot like original public meaning originalism. Let’s hope that unlike Justice Scalia, Chief Justice Roberts does not abandon originalism in McDonald v. Chicago. Though I am not hopeful.

Also, on a lighter note, around 1:00:00, Chief Justice Roberts jokes that the Professor who started the rumor about his retirement has been so overwhelmed, he has decided to leave teaching. lol