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"Blog City Prompt Forum" | Prompt ▼
I remember this quote. It's from a commencement speech that SCOTUS Chief Justice John Roberts gave at his kid's graduation ceremony from some boarding school somewhere. At the time it was met with mixed reviews, with many either celebrating its irreverence or dismissing it as faux-intellectual nonsense. The version in the prompt is actually an abridged version, though. Here's the full text of that section of his commencement speech:
"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."
He gave that speech back in 2017, before the Supreme Court replaced Anthony Kennedy with Brett Kavanaugh, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg with Amy Coney Barrett, and Stephen Breyer with Ketanji Brown Jackson. Back before the Court's most recent term where they overturned Roe v. Wade, gutted the federal government's ability to regulate major types of environmental pollutants, and have dramatically limited the rights of states to regulate guns (funny how they say we must entrust reproductive rights to the states, but gun rights are too important to be left up to individual states to decide... ), all things that are wildly unpopular with a significant majority of Americans.
In retrospect, maybe this is exactly the kind of person that John Roberts has always been. Someone who prides himself on being moderate and sensible and an institutionalist is, at heart, a "fuck your feelings" type who foreshadowed five years ago what they were going to do when given an opportunity. After all, it's good for us to be treated unfairly, to be betrayed, to lose and have your opponent gloat over their victory. The really important part isn't how badly you get screwed over; it's whether you learn something from the experience.
Spoken like someone who has routinely done the screwing over and has rarely been screwed over himself.
Don't get me wrong, I do think there is a grain of truth in what he's saying about the fact that we are all tempered and shaped by our failures. We often learn the most salient lessons about who we are and what we believe in the face of adversity. I guess I just have an issue with the messenger on this one. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, who by most accounts has led a pretty charmed life and now has the power to change the course of history in this country is telling a bunch of middle school graduates "I hope you'll fail at your dreams and be disappointed so you learn to suck it up."
For me, it's kind of like being lectured on your parenting skills by friends who have live-in domestic staff, or like an inheritor of generational wealth giving you tips on how to build a fortune. At best, it's the misguided advice of someone who hasn't actually practiced what they're preaching. At worse, it was a subtle warning of what was to come... an era where we're all going to get jurisprudentially fucked and his advice for when that happens is to basically be the dad from Calvin & Hobbes and tell us all how it "builds character."
I used to think John Roberts took his role as the steward of the Supreme Court seriously. That he actually believed in the fair and balanced application of the law was more important than partisan politics. The more I read about John Roberts and the actions he's taken since helping the Bush team argue in Bush v. Gore to stop the count in Florida and declare Bush the winner of the 2000 presidential election (a decision he directly benefitted from by subsequently being appointed to the federal bench), almost all of his opinions and decisions have frequently aligned with the interests of the Republican Party. And I don't mean with conservatism as a general judicial philosophy, I specifically mean key decisions that have implicitly and explicitly entrenched the political power of the Republican Party. I know all this sounds a little
... but seriously, look it up sometime. See what Roberts had to say in Exxon Shipping v. Baker about corporate responsibility for wrongdoing. Or Citizens United about corporate political donations being considered free speech. Or Heller, which disregarded the "for the purposes of a well regulated militia" part of the second amendment (odd for so many "originalists" on the court to decide in that specific instance that the founders didn't know what they were talking about!). Or Shelby County v. Holder where states with a record of voter rights violations no longer needed the federal government's approval over new voting laws because racism doesn't exist anymore. It's remarkable how often Roberts' opinions aren't just generically conservative but are very specifically in favor of a course of action that benefits the Republican Party in efforts to entrench its own power.
Maybe a guy like that shouldn't be telling a bunch of kids that he hopes the struggle and fail. Then again, maybe someone who seems to be putting his thumb on the scales of justice is exactly the kind of person who would tell kids that he hopes they learn something from inevitable adversity and disappointment with the system.