Students, professors react to new chief justice

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The U.S. Senate confirmed John Roberts as the new Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Sept. 29, prompting some CSUN students and professors to consider the implications of a Roberts Court that some contend still carries with it a lot of unknowns.

Roberts was nominated to become the 17th chief justice by President George W. Bush on Sept. 6 following the death of Chief Justice William Rehnquist three days earlier. The 50-year-old Roberts, the second youngest man in two centuries to become chief justice, previously served as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Bush originally nominated Roberts in July to replace Justice Sandra Day O’Connor after she announced her retirement, but Roberts’ nomination was elevated. A new nominee to replace O’Connor has yet to be named, but is expected soon.

“Bush is conservative, so he appointed someone who would share similar views,” said Sylvia Snowiss, political science professor at CSUN.

Another political science professor, Christopher Shortell, said that since Roberts worked with Rehnquist as a clerk in the early 1980s, they shared an affinity, adding that he would probably not be that different than Rehnquist.

Roberts’ involvement in cases dealing with abortion, gay rights, the environment and endangered species have left some people with an unclear view of what a Roberts-led Supreme Court will become. Roberts has been identified by many as a stolid conservative, and he has reportedly worked on legal documents that have both looked to defend gay rights and define abortion-related activities as within a “so-called” right to privacy.

“His answers regarding abortion were not clear, and with the White House not releasing facts from when he worked under (President George H. Bush’s) administration has also made (some people) worrisome,” Shortell said. “The Democrats that voted against him felt that they didn’t get good answers.”

All 55 Republicans in the Senate voted to confirm Roberts, with 22 Democrats in opposition.

Marcus Afzali, senior political science major and member of the Young Democrats of Northridge, said he is not against Roberts, but does not support him either.

“People who are against him are against him because they don’t know what he is about,” Afzali said.

“Will he be as conservative as (Justice Clarence) Thomas, being the most conservative, or more moderately conservative like (Justice Anthony) Kennedy? Where he falls on the scale could affect decisions made by the Senate,” Shortell said prior to his confirmation.

Matthew Gerred, senior finance major and chair of the CSUN College Republicans, said he is in full support of Roberts.

“It’s all just politics,” Gerred said. “They want to call him a conservative and use that against him. They have no issues to use against him.”

Gerred also said that the reason why John Roberts does not claim his views is because he does not want to be locked in on any specific viewpoint before becoming chief justice.

Roberts’ ability and competence to be chief justice are not being questioned, Shortell said.

“He is a well-regarded, competent lawyer, but what will he do on the bench?” he said.

“This is a new time with new cases,” Snowiss said. “As a lawyer, he was an advocate, but how will he look at the world as a judge? He can’t be advocating one side.”

Gerred said most judges have lawyer backgrounds and that does not mean it will make them biased. He said he believes Roberts will be an impartial judge.

Afzali stressed the unknowns of the new Roberts Court.

“We’ll just have to wait and see,” he said.

Ariana Rodriguez can be reached at ariana.rodriguez@csun.edu.