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Chief Justice Roberts Delivers Civics Lesson On Role Of Supreme Court

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Yesterday, President Trump compared the Khashoggi case to the debate over Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. He said both are cases of, quote, "guilty until proven innocent." During that confirmation debate, the Supreme Court justices themselves largely kept quiet. Now that Kavanaugh is on the court, Chief Justice John Roberts is speaking publicly, trying to make sure that the bitter fight doesn't cast a shadow over the high court.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHN ROBERTS: I will not criticize the political branches. We do that often enough in our opinions.

(LAUGHTER)

ROBERTS: But what I would like to do briefly is emphasize how the judicial branch is, how it must be very different.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The chief justice gave that audience at the University of Minnesota Law School a de facto civics lesson about the role of the Supreme Court in American democracy.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ROBERTS: Our role is very clear. We are to interpret the Constitution and laws of the United States and ensure that the political branches act within them. That job obviously requires independence from the political branches. The story of the Supreme Court would be very different without that sort of independence.

KELLY: Roberts highlighted some of the difficult decisions the court made that ran contrary to popular political opinions of the day. And Roberts said when the court has made mistakes, it is because the court gave in to political pressure - for example, the Korematsu ruling that upheld internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.

SHAPIRO: He shared a tradition the justices have, one that's designed to reinforce their shared commitment to working together despite ideological differences.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ROBERTS: Before we go onto the bench to hear argument in a case and before we go into the conference room to discuss a case, we pause for a moment and shake each other's hand. It's a small thing, perhaps, but it is a repeated reminder that, as our newest colleague put it - we do not sit on opposite sides of an aisle; we do not serve one party or one interest; we serve one nation. And I want to assure all of you that we will continue to do that to the best of our abilities, whether times are calm or contentious.

KELLY: John Roberts, chief justice of the United States speaking yesterday in Minnesota.

(SOUNDBITE OF BRAD MEHLDAU'S "MIGNON'S SONG") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.