Much of the arguments before the United States Supreme Court would bore the average layperson to tears. But in a case before the Court concerning traffic stops a few weeks ago, Chief Justice John Roberts apparently admitted something absolutely nuts. He's never been pulled over by a cop before. Ever.
Cristian Farias, a justice reporter for Slate, first caught the weird confession:
The apparent confusion in the courtroom was useful in one respect: It illuminated the cluelessness of Chief Justice John Roberts when it comes to traffic stops. Addressing the lawyer who was representing Dennys Rodriguez, the petitioner in the case, Roberts said, "Usually, people have told me, when you're stopped, the officer says, 'License and registration.' "
There was laughter in the courtroom. And the lawyer, recently retired federal public defender Shannon P. O'Connor, played along and responded with humor: "I've had friends that say the same thing, Mr. Chief Justice."
First of all, holy crap. You know something is bad when everyone just sort of laughs like "this is preposterous no way can it be true hahahahahaha great joke Mr. Chief Justice." And we don't know yet for certain if he wasn't just making some sick joke, as his office hasn't confirmed it.
But it sounds true, and as Farias points out, it's alarming if the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court himself, a person tasked with administering the scales of power more than any other in the entire country, hasn't been in a traffic stop even once. Maybe he just follows every law closely? Maybe he never speeds?
A traffic stop is, for many Americans, the first and only encounter they have being on the wrong side of law enforcement. In fact, the Bureau of Justice itself says that nearly 50% of face-to-face interactions between U.S. residents and police occurs in the form of a traffic stop.
They can be confusing, shameful, and traumatic, at their very worst. So to have never encountered even that most basic interaction with police makes it appear as if the Chief Justice doesn't live the life most of us do.
Which brings us to the broader point, which is what case was actually being argued before the Court that day. Rodriguez v. United States seeks to determine how long a police officer can make you sit and wait for a Canine Unit to arrive so they can search your car for drugs during a routine stop. It concerns the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and also, the answer should be "really not very long at all."
But with a Chief Justice who has never been pulled over, for anything, himself, we'll find out what the Court has to say about it.
Photo credit: AP