October 19, 2012
Chief Justice Roberts Speaks
Chief Justice Roberts spoke at Rice University earlier this week as part of Rice’s centennial celebration. Rather than giving a formal lecture, the talk was billed as a conversation with the Chief Justice. His comments included a concern about the Constitution as applied to new technologies:
"What is the fundamental protection offered by the Constitution when applied to new technology and situations? It's a question that comes along all the time."
Justice Alito addressed this concern in one of the most recent cases, United States v. Jones where the Court confronted this issue. That case concerned placing a GPS tracking device on a suspect’s vehicle:
The Court argues—and I agree—that “we must ‘assur[e] preservation of that degree of privacy against government that existed when the Fourth Amendment was adopted.’” Ante, at 5 (quoting Kyllo v. United States, 533 U. S. 27, 34 (2001)). But it is almost impossible to think of late-18th-century situations that are analogous to what took place in this case. (Is it possible to imagine a case in which a constable secreted himself somewhere in a coach and remained there for a period of time in order to monitor the movements of the coach’s owner?3)
3The Court suggests that something like this might have occurred in 1791, but this would have required either a gigantic coach, a very tiny constable, or both—not to mention a constable with incredible fortitude and patience.
It appears that GPS trackers were much larger at the time of the adoption of the Constitution.
Chief Justice Roberts further addressed collegiality on the Court. He pointed out that talk of divisiveness is untrue. There are never voices raised in anger at conferences and there is great intellectual depth on the Court. While the press is fond of labeling Justices as liberal or conservative, many of the Court’s decisions are unanimous. I’m not so sure about that last part myself.The story on the talk is in the Houston Chronicle. There is a video of the talk at the Rice University web site, courtesy of Rice’s Educational Technology Team. [MG]