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What is the significance of the oath of office given by Roberts to Obama and how did it reflect the relations of the two men?

June 22, 2021
Christopher R. Teeple

Essay on the case of Lilly Ledbetter v Goodyear Rubber & Tire, an employment discrimination case. Outline in Unit Four
Item Four: Toobin Background and Study Questions
What an ideal time to be reading Jeffrey Toobin’s fine book about the United States Supreme Court! With the hearings and confirmation recently concluded, Amy Coney Barrett will be the newest Justice, the cases in this book have been center stage. In one day of questioning, every one of the cases I will recommend you read for the outside case to answer study question #3 was mentioned. These are pivotal cases and the precedents they have set may well be altered or overturned on a Court with a 6-3 Conservative majority. It is clear from her answers to the Senators’ questions, that she will align with the Conservative Justices. She might even be more Conservative that the most Conservative Justice on the Court.
The author of The Oath. The Obama White House and the Supreme Court, is a lawyer, former legal news commentator and a former writer for The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly and other publications. His previous book on the Supreme Court is The Nine. The Secret World of the Supreme Court which documents the court under Chief Justice William Rehnquist. His most recent book is about the first impeachment hearings of Trump. Toobin has an undergraduate degree and a law degree from Harvard.
It is my hope that you will find the book engaging. While it is pretty heavy legal analysis, Toobin writes in an easy manner and includes a great many personal observations about the people who populate the book–the US Supreme Court Justices, President Obama and the lawyers who represent on the cases before the Court.
You will read about the way Chief Justice Roberts bungled the administering of the Oath of Office, how it had to be redone and the tension between the two men that never went away. Roberts and Obama could not have been more different even though they both were star students at Harvard Law School and just a few years separated in time. They were on opposite sides of the American political spectrum, Obama, a liberal, and Roberts, a conservative. Their upbringing made them culturally distinct as well. The picture Toobin draws of these two leaders, one executive, the other judicial, is fascinating.
There are only two questions on the book and one additional assignment about which you will write a summary. I have selected three prominent cases and you need to choose one of those to use for the case brief. This book is required reading so if you don’t have it, please get it soon. It is available at the WCC Bookstore and online.
Study Questions:
Please write an essay of two (2) to three (3) on questions #1 and #2.. They are very broad and cover more than one single part of the book. Start by 1) reading the whole book or 2) looking for specific parts of the book that will answer the question (the table of contents, chapter headings, the index at the end of the book). They will take careful reading and thoughtful analysis. For question #3, you need to choose one of three I have suggested and write a two to three page essay on it using a simple format of: Facts, Issue, Decision, Argument of the Court. This format will be explained separately. Additional guidelines are below next to each question.
1. What is the significance of the oath of office given by Roberts to Obama and how did it reflect the relations of the two men? Please comment on their backgrounds, their political ideologies and make specific reference to the Citizens United case and the Affordable Health Care case.
The first 17 pages of the book introduce you to the two men, the President-elect and the seventeenth Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. As Toobin points out, the men had common ground in their education and career commitments, but certainly approached the law and society in very different ways. Toobin uses the botched Oath of Office to highlight the tension between Obama and Roberts and returns in Chapter 2 to the qualities that separated them as he reviews Obama’s position on gun policy and Roberts history as a clerk to Chief Justice William Rehnquist. The narrative will set the stage for your analysis of specific cases that Obama opposed and Roberts opposed ini one instance, Citizens’ United v. FEC, but, strangely, supported in the test of the Affordable Care Act.
A little bit about the cases. Citizens United was the collision between the liberty of corporations to contribute lavishly to political campaigns and the equality of ordinary people to feel they were as worthy participants in the electoral process even if they didn’t have the ability to donate millions of dollars to their favorite candidates. The corporations won the fight when the Court, including Roberts, upheld the fiction that corporations are individuals and therefore entitled to free speech which, in turn, translates into expressing that free speech by supporting candidates for political office in whatever degree they can afford. (The case also granted the same right to labor unions whose political revenue stream comes from members’ individual contributions to the union’s political action committee, usually in the form of a $4 a month donation, considerably less than the coffers of Chase or Walmart.)
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) was Obama’s signature legislation, an attempt to give coverage to the 45 million Americans who do not have access to health care from their jobs and cannot afford private insurance company plans. The Act was a mixture of private and public and extended health care to 22 million people. An important part of the Act was that it made coverage mandatory and this was the point that became the issue when the challenge to it reached the US Supreme Court. Roberts’ support of the mandate, specifically, was the key to keeping the ACA alive. President Trump had made the repeal of this legislation a key plank in this election campaign and never forgave Roberts for saving it. Even in the last presidential debate, Trump referred to his own health plan and renewed his goal of getting the ACA repealed.
Please read the sections on these two cases in the book supplemented by any outside sources you want to use to help you understand what was going on. I will step in to assist as well.
2. Who was Lilly Ledbetter, what happened to her and how does it explain the relationship between judicial rulings and legislative action?
The significance of the Lilly Ledbetter case is a lesson in the ultimate supremacy of the United States Congress over the United States Supreme Court. Unfortunately, Ledbetter’s victory in the legislative branch was cold comfort for the beating she took in the judicial branch (although as you can see in the photograph in the book as Obama is signing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, she is certainly proud as she watches a law go into effect that would mean no one would be treated unfairly the way she had been.)
What happened to Lilly Ledbetter was classic gender discrimination. She went to work for Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company in Gadsden, Alabama in 1979 when she was forty years old. A hard worker, she advanced in a management position over the years, receiving many promotions. Just before announcing her retirement, she found a note appears in the company mailbox informing her that her salary of $3727 per month while the salary of her male counterparts, doing the exact same job, ranged from $4,286 and $5,236 per month. In Chapter 5, Toobin explains what happened when she went to Court on the federal district trial level (and won) and what happened when Goodyear appealed the case to the United States Supreme Court, headed at the time by Roberts’ mentor, Chief Justice Wiliam Rehnquist.
3. Discuss one other case of your choosing using the standard case brief method of Facts, Issue, Decision and Argument. I will elaborate on this in a separate section. The cases I have selected are ones students have chosen in previous semesters: They are all covered adequately by Toobin and are readily available on line as well.
District of Columbia v. Heller (gun control)
Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle Scjool District No. 1 (school desegregation)
Roe v. Wade (abortion rights)

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