Sunday, November 19, 2006

The Chief Justice as Superstar

Andy the Ectomorph observes (I think correctly) the much-enhanced public role of Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin in comparison with her predecessor Antonio Lamer, and asks what it all means.

Its superempowered constitutional role has created an institutional need for a politically-savvy and media-conscious figure to do public relations for the Court. The need has existed for a while, but Uncle Tony was just not equipped to provide it: when he spoke extra-judicially and publicly, the result was always embarrassing for the Court Party. Brian Dickson wasn't as bad as Lamer, but he had the same corporate lawyer's incapacity for political communication that we saw in John Turner. Going back even further, Bora Laskin was more successful as a public figure than on his own court, where he was in a permanent minority with Spence and Dickson (L-S-D): in those days, it was really Ronald Martland, as leader of the conservative-Quebec alliance, who was the Chief Justice.

The current Chief Justice, though, is completely and utterly suited to be a public advocate for the court's role. In her own jurisprudence, she combines substantive caution and moderation with a consistent support for expanding the court's role. And she clearly has political skills. Maurice Vellacot was substantively in the right in his conflict with her last spring, but there can be no doubt that he had his political butt handed to him.

I agree with Andy that the Beverley McLachlin is, in many ways, an admirable judge. She is open-minded and pragmatic. And she has a superhuman work ethic. Unfortunately, though, her advocacy skills are put to the benefit of the institutional interests of the court and of the legal profession. That's perhaps what you would expect, given her role, but it could work against the interests of the country. The Harper government would be ill-advised to underestimate her.

No comments: