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.)