Monday, July 10, 2017
Chief Justice John Roberts made headlines last week. It wasn’t a hot-button 5-4 opinion at the end of the SCOTUS term that caught the media’s attention this year. But, it was a piece of writing that the Washington Post called “[t]he best thing Chief Justice Roberts wrote this term.” So, what was it? Well, it was a graduation speech delivered to the graduating class at Cardigan Mountain School, where the Chief’s son Jack was graduating ninth grade.
It is hard to believe that the Chief’s son is graduating ninth grade. I remember seeing him “dance” at the press conference in July 2005, when President Bush announced John Roberts’ nomination to the SCOTUS. You can watch the video here. Apparently, young Jack was impersonating Spiderman.
What makes this speech so great? It is certainly funny (see this line: “You’ve been at a school with just boys. Most of you will be going to a school with girls. I have no advice for you.”). But that is not what makes the speech stand out. What makes the speech so unique, and what has drawn attention, is the section of the speech where Chief Justice Roberts tells the students that he hopes that they will be “treated unfairly” and have “bad luck.” He says:
Now the commencement speakers will typically also wish you good luck and extend good wishes to you. I will not do that, and I’ll tell you why. From time to time in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice. I hope that you will suffer betrayal because that will teach you the importance of loyalty. Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time so that you don’t take friends for granted. I wish you bad luck, again, from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life and understand that your success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either. And when you lose, as you will from time to time, I hope every now and then, your opponent will gloat over your failure. It is a way for you to understand the importance of sportsmanship. I hope you’ll be ignored so you know the importance of listening to others, and I hope you will have just enough pain to learn compassion. Whether I wish these things or not, they’re going to happen. And whether you benefit from them or not will depend upon your ability to see the message in your misfortunes.
Chief Justice Roberts does offer the students some advice that I think relates to appellate advocacy. He reminds the students that, although they are “privileged,” they should not act like it. Rather, when they get to their new schools, they should “walk up and introduce [themselves] to the person who is raking the leaves, shoveling the snow or emptying the trash. Learn their name and call them by their name during your time at the school.” He also told them to smile and say “hello” to people that they do not recognize when taking walks. He said, “[t]he worst thing that will happen is that you will become known as the young man who smiles and says hello, and that is not a bad thing to start with.”
This exhortation to treat others with kindness is a lesson that many attorneys could stand to learn. When I was clerking, there was a story told around the courthouse about some attorneys looking for a courtroom. One of the judges, who was not in his robe, stopped to help them. But, when he told them that he only knew the courtrooms by carpet color (which is how all the judges, clerks, and court staff referred to the courtrooms) and not number, the attorneys were quite rude to him. He wasn’t on their panel, but I do believe that he spoke to the judges who were. A little kindness to the clerk’s office, the marshals, the janitorial staff, and the unknown person offering help, goes a long way!
The Chief offers some other great advice, so I encourage you to read his full remarks here.