A few months after Kelo was released, the Senate Judiciary Committee held its hearings on the confirmation of John Roberts to be the next chief justice of the United States. Not surprisingly, Kelo was a topic of much concern among Senate Republicans. They wanted to know if Roberts shared their outrage about the Court’s judgment and if Roberts agreed that Kelo was a judicial travesty that should be overturned as soon as possible.
But Roberts was not so quick to concur with that negative assessment. In fact, Roberts argued that Kelo had a silver lining. The Court’s ruling, Roberts said, “leaves the ball in the court of the legislature, and I think it’s reflective of what is often the case and people sometimes lose sight of, that this body [Congress] and legislative bodies in the States are protectors of people’s rights as well.”
It was perhaps the single most revealing moment in Roberts’ entire confirmation proceedings. The future chief justice had just used Kelo, one of the worst decisions of the 21st century, to make a subtle yet undeniable argument in favor of judicial deference to legislative bodies. If you don’t like what your lawmakers have done, Roberts plainly suggested, take your complaint to the ballot box, not to the courthouse.
It was a clear warning sign of the judicial abdication to come.