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Judges Are Like Umpires: John Roberts on the Limitations of a Judge's Role

John Roberts, nominated by President Bush to fill the now vacant seat of Chief Justice on the United States Supreme Court, said the following in his opening statements before the Senate Judiciary Committee today:

My personal appreciation that I owe a great debt to others reinforces my view that a certain humility should characterize the judicial role. Judges and justices are servants of the law, not the other way around. Judges are like umpires. Umpires don't make the rules; they apply them.

The role of an umpire and a judge is critical. They make sure everybody plays by the rules.

But it is a limited role. Nobody ever went to a ballgame to see the umpire.

Judges have to have the humility to recognize that they operate within a system of precedent, shaped by other judges equally striving to live up to the judicial oath. And judges have to have the modesty to be open in the decisional process to the considered views of their colleagues on the bench . . . .

I have no agenda, but I do have a commitment. If I am confirmed, I will confront every case with an open mind. I will fully and fairly analyze the legal arguments that are presented. I will be open to the considered views of my colleagues on the bench. And I will decide every case based on the record, according to the rule of law, without fear or favor, to the best of my ability. And I will remember that it's my job to call balls and strikes and not to pitch or bat.

While some of Judge Roberts views about controversial issues (such as abortion) seem less than clear at this point in the game, one thing that is clear and positive is his understanding of the limitations of a judges’ role. A judge doesn’t legislate. He doesn't write law or change law. He applies law and enforces law. He calls balls and strikes – he doesn’t pitch or bat.

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