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Chief Justice Roberts Skirts Questions on Gay Issues and Others

Chief Justice Roberts Skirts Questions on Gay Issues and Others

Students and community members lined up by the dozens at Brigham Young University to ask the U.S. Supreme Court's chief justice about subjects including race, Roe v. Wade, Guantanamo Bay prisoners, and same-sex marriage. John Roberts handled the 40 minutes of queries on Tuesday with political skill, deftly avoiding issues he said would come before the nation's highest court.

Students and community members lined up by the dozens at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, to ask the U.S. Supreme Court's chief justice about subjects including race, Roe v. Wade, Guantanamo Bay prisoners, and same-sex marriage.

John Roberts handled the 40 minutes of queries on Tuesday with political skill, deftly avoiding issues he said would come before the nation's highest court.

''This is starting to remind me of the confirmation hearings,'' Roberts joked, drawing a laugh as he referred to his grilling by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Roberts spoke at BYU, which is owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, during a regular weekly forum, giving the crowd of 7,080 a lesson on the U.S. Constitution and urging students to read the ''short, powerful'' document.

''I think you'll come away with a profound respect for those who created our nation,'' he said before a question-and-answer session with the audience.

Audience members came prepared for Roberts. Their questions covered specific court decisions, opinions written by Roberts, and broader legal theories.

J.D. Christensen, a 17-year-old high school student from Salt Lake City, asked Roberts if he saw any flaws in the Constitution.

''Any flaws? Ah, sure,'' Roberts said, noting that the Founding Fathers failed to address some important issues, such as slavery. ''But the Constitution has endured through 220 years, through war and peace and all sorts of struggles.''

Roberts dodged a question about Mitt Romney's candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination and the constitutional provision that says religion can't be used as a test or qualification for elected office. Romney, a Mormon, has been badgered on the campaign trail with questions about his faith.

''Obviously, I have no interest in and can't get involved in any political debate,'' Roberts said.

He said he agreed with Alexander Hamilton, who called the judicial branch the ''least dangerous'' branch of government, and said the framers of the Constitution intentionally gave the judicial branch a limited role in government.

Presidents and members of Congress wake up daily with agendas or ideas to change the nation, Roberts said, while judges go to work and deal with what's in front of them.

''The judicial branch has the authority to interpret the Constitution because it is law and must be independent to do so without fear or favor,'' Roberts said. ''But the judges must limit themselves to that task. They may not use their independence to write their own policy preferences into the Constitution.''

Christensen's father, Salt Lake City business owner Jerry Christensen, said he liked what he heard from Roberts.

''I liked his evenhandedness,'' the elder Christensen said. ''From the congressional side or even the executive branch, you would expect more flamboyance, speaking out on a topic that they're very passionate about.''

Roberts, 52, was nominated by President Bush and became chief justice in 2005 after the death of William Rehnquist.

During his confirmation hearings, Roberts said he wanted to be known as a ''modest judge'' and that the chief justice's role was to foster cohesiveness on the court. (Jennifer Dobner, AP)

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