WASHINGTON – Chief Justice John Roberts says the American political system is increasingly polarized and fears that divisiveness may seep into the federal judiciary.
"There has been an increase in the polarization of our political process that's reflected in the Congress. And I think it's very unfortunate that [there's] danger that that might gravitate to the judicial branch where it has no place," Roberts said Saturday in Louisville, Kentucky.
The comments were in response to a question about the confirmation process all federal judges—including Supreme Court justices—go through. The Chief Justice's answer doubled as unsolicited advice to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee who conduct those hearings.
Roberts faced his own grilling before the panel four years ago and he expressed disappointment over how that hearing was conducted.
President Barack Obama's first appellate court nominee hardly faced an opposing question during his hearing on April 1, but that's only because Republican members staged a boycott. They objected to the speed with which David Hamilton's hearing was scheduled only two weeks after his nomination was announced. Hardly a sign that the era of politicized confirmations has ended.
It was also seen in the confirmation process of Elena Kagan to be Solicitor General. While her hearing was relatively smooth, it took several weeks for the committee to pass her nomination on to the full senate. Eventually Kagan became the first woman confirmed to the post often referred to as the "Tenth Justice" because of its influence shaping the Supreme Court's docket.
But her 61-31 vote tally reflected not so much concern over her ability to be Solicitor General; rather it was an opportunity for senators to cast a vote on someone Obama might select for the high court.
Roberts didn't make specific mention of either of those nominees and it isn't clear he even had those in mind when he spoke but clearly he feels the nomination process is less than perfect.
He concluded his answer with the realization that the politicians on Capitol Hill will conduct their business as they see fit and that any comments from him about such a live-wire topic should be restrained. "I understand the realities of the process and perhaps I shouldn't comment on it anymore."