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Chief Justice Roberts visited KU

Last night, CJ Roberts gave a lecture through the business school. It was fairly disappointing, honestly. He read his talk, and he talked about the Louisiana Purchase. He also spent a long time on the mechanics of the Supreme Court. I understand that the audience was made up of many lay people and that he couldn’t actually talk about many of the things we really wanted to hear about (e.g., Heller), but I guess I expected a little more.

Today, however, he had a Q&A session for law students. I got there 1 1/2 hours early, so I was first in line. He actually walked in while I was in line, and he said hi. It was quite the moment. I got to sit in the front row, and the session was just great. People asked all sorts of things, from what he considers when deciding a case to his view on the Constitution (although that question was also asked last night by Adam Davis and received by the audience with resounding applause) to advice for aspiring advocates.

I asked the second question. I asked him about the Medellin case. In that one, which came out just over a month ago, he wrote the opinion for five justices (the conservative ones), in which the Court held that an ICJ decision (that a certain treaty required the government to notify the Mexican government of the charging of Mexican nationals) was not binding on the individual states, and so the habeas petitions filed by 51 Mexican nationals were rightfully denied. In the analysis, the majority looked to the text of the treaty, and the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, and the US Constitution, and found that ICJ decisions were not self-executing treaties and could not be binding unless the Senate ratified them. My question was whether he would advise countries developing independent judiciaries to include something in their constitutions that would make ICJ decisions binding on the individual parts of the country. He didn’t directly answer this, saying that it was up to the country and he couldn’t advise them one way or the other, but he also said that if the country decides it wants to be bound by a bunch of judges far away, it’s that country’s own perogative. That seems clear enough to me.

So then he taught the constitutional law class, which I unfortunately could not attend. I heard it was great. But then, in the afternoon, he and four judges who sit in Kansas (two 10th Circuit judges, a District of Kansas judge, and a Kansas Supreme Court justice) judged the final round of our in-house moot court competition. There were probably 100 students there, a number of professors, a handful of local judges, and lawyers from the firm (Foulston Siefkin) that sponsors the prizes for the in-house competition. The student advocates were excellent. The bench was really hot. The justices usually didn’t let the advocates speak for more than 15 or 20 seconds without interrupting them. The few times they didn’t interrupt, the advocates were kind of thrown off. But everyone did a really great job of advocating, especially under such intimidating circumstances. All of the judges/justices-for-the-moment gushed about how wonderful the advocates were, and Judge Tacha even said they did as well if not better than the final round in the national competition, whose problem we used. I was thrilled for the team that won – Dani and I were rooting for them from the beginning – but I was still a little bummed that it wasn’t the two of us up there.

After the competition, there was a reception in the informal commons. Lots of men in suits (and not just federal marshalls) were trying to get close to Roberts, but I managed to get pretty close to him. And then he turned towards me! And he shook my hand and thanked me for my question! It was a very proud moment for me, even if it was just what the situation required.

I know CJ Roberts is a conservative judge, and I don’t necessarily agree with his opinions (including the opinion he wrote for Medellin), but he’s brilliant, his credentials are absolutely outstanding, and he’s kind of dreamy. I’ve been joking about swooning. Ah, men with power. That is probably slightly inappropriate for a legal blog, but oh well.

It’s been an exciting day and a half. (And today was the last day of classes, which made it even better.)

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