James J. Kilpatrick

Justice Thomas, writing for the dissenters, was not impressed. The state had relied upon procedures that "clearly satisfy the requirements of due process." Nothing in the Constitution requires the state to engage in heroic efforts at notification. The majority's suggestions for "something more," aside from being constitutionally unnecessary, "are also burdensome, impractical, and no more likely to effect notice than the methods actually employed by the state."

Getting away from the sweet-pea substance of Roberts' majority opinion in the Arkansas case, I'm ready to give the chief justice points for syntax. None of his four opinions for the court has suffered from serious turgidity. Mostly, they read well.

Roberts' maiden opinion as chief justice came on Dec. 9 in Martin v. Franklin Capital. The case was inescapably boring, but Roberts evidently knows how to be boring clearly.

His second opinion on Feb. 21 in Gonzales v. Uniao do Vegetal (UDV) was a heap better. Here the government proposed to punish members of a tiny religious sect in New Mexico for importing a potent herbal tea that is vital to their sacramental ceremony. Under Roberts' relentless reasoning the case collapsed.

In his third opinion, the new chief spoke for a unanimous court on March 1 in rebuking a few holier-than-thou universities that refuse to accord equal treatment to military recruiters on their campuses. The opinion was nothing fancy. It contained no phrases meant for Bartlett's Quotations, but it was as clear as bottled water and just as pleasant to drink.

For the past 20 years Justice Scalia has functioned as the court's only truly gifted writer. His colleagues over two decades have included a charming woman, a misguided pilot, three sociable gentlemen, and three jurists whose pens are filled with library paste. There hasn't been another consistently readable writer in the lot. Justice Alito? We'll see.


James J. Kilpatrick

James J. Kilpatrick has been reporter, editor, columnist, commentator, and briefly an adjunct professor of journalism.

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