May 24, 2020 - Politics & Policy

John Roberts: Pandemic provides a lesson in humility and compassion

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts listens to President Donald Trump's State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on January 30
Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts during President Donald Trump's State of the Union in Congress in January. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts made the coronavirus crisis a central focus of his video address to graduating seniors at his son's high school Saturday, noting the pandemic "has pierced our illusion of certainty and control."

Details: Roberts said in the video, posted on the website of Westminster School in Simsbury, Connecticut, where his son is a senior, that the virus "has or will affect practically everyone in the world in one way or another." He urged students to show "compassion" to others "who may bear scars" from the outbreak.

  • "Humility. The pandemic should teach us at least that," he said. "Those who have lost jobs or small businesses, whose hopes and dreams may be slowly drifting out of reach."
  • He pointed out that the graduating students were probably among a "handful of the most challenged high school graduating classes since the class of 1942" during the Second World War. "This your moment, your time to begin leaving your mark on the world," he said.
"Today we call those graduates part of the Greatest Generation. What are they going to call you? Your challenge is not as great, but it’s big and it’s yours."

Of note: Roberts did not address current Supreme Court cases, such as on abortion issues, immigration or President Trump's tax returns. But he did touch on the impact of the coronavirus on the justices.

  • "We of course cannot shake each other’s hand now. I look forward to the day when that tradition can be revived," Roberts said.
  • And he noted he'd been asked recently about whether the justices wore robes during unprecedented hearings conducted "over the telephone". "I didn't know if the person was asking: judicial or bath," he joked, without elaborating further.
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