I had the opportunity the other day to hear Chief Justice John Roberts speak at Canisius College. Justice Roberts was born in the Buffalo area, moving to Indiana at the age of seven. (Sadly, I didn't have the chance to ask him if he packed any affection for the Buffalo Bills with him.) He attended three classes at the school and then essentially answered questions for about 90 minutes.
It's always good to hear someone like this in person. He's one of the most important persons in government, but a majority of the population couldn't pick him out of a lineup. Here are a few quick impressions that I carried home:
* As you might expect, Justice Roberts -- I'd feel funny writing "John" -- is an impressive person. He seemed to have a good sense of humor, and didn't talk down to the audience although we all know he could have done so quite easily. I could see have an adult beverage with him and chatting for a while, which is always a good test for someone.
* While the first hour featured a host and filtered questions, Roberts took questions from the audience for about 30 minutes. I always like the people who use such occasions to push an agenda, even though they know, or should know, that the response will be along the lines of "I can't talk about that because it might come up in court" or "My written opinion is all I want to say about that one." There were a couple of people who did that in this case; they would not pass the "adult beverage" test.
* But I really liked one question that absolutely came out of left field. Someone noticed that these long legal warnings come up when you are on line -- think updating iTunes -- that you must hit the "I agree" button in order to proceed. The questioner asked if Justice Roberts, as the top legal authority in the land, understood those warnings.
It got a laugh, and another laugh came when Justice Roberts said, "I must admit I don't read those things either." But he went on to make a good point, that there are all sorts of warnings and agreements that are too long and complicated to understood by anyone. As an example, he mentioned the form that comes with a prescription that has possible side-effects to medicine. The problem is that the form looks like a road map, and the important parts are on page 14.
I can't say I agree with Justice Roberts' judical philosophy all the time, which is fine. But it's easy to feel a little better when getting to see someone like that in person. Thanks, Canisius, for the free evening of entertainment and enlightenment.