Will Chief Justice John Roberts Move to The Center of The Supreme Court?

Prologue:  John Roberts was nominated by President George W. Bush in 2005 after Chief Justice William Rehnquist died.  During the thirteen years he has served, most of his votes were with the Conservative bloc on the Court: Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and  Anthony Kennedy.  When Scalia died, President Barack Obama nominated Chief Judge Merrick Garland of the D.C. Circuit Court.  Senator Mitch Mc Connell,  Republican Majority leader refused to allow him to meet with the Judiciary Committee or be voted upon by the full Senate.  The position remained vacant for over a year.  During that time, the Chief Justice did not choose to speak about the impasse in the High Court with four Liberals and four Conservatives, and that McConnell was impeding the proper functioning of the Supreme Court under The Constitution.

During the entire first two years of Donald J. Trump’s administration, John Roberts spoke out only once in 2016 , saying: “ We don’t work as Democrats or Republicans” .  He returned to this theme that the court is not tied to partisan politics when Donald Trump responded to an administration loss in a lower court by criticizing the judge, Jon S. Tigar, calling him “an Obama judge”.  Chief Justice Roberts rebuked the president with a sharp public statement:  “We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges,  Bush judges or Clinton judges.  What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those who are appearing before them. That independent judiciary is something we should be thankful for.”

That was the first time since Trump ran for president that Roberts commented upon his many insults and derogatory remarks about Federal Judges.

During his years as Chief Justice, Roberts has voted usually with the Conservatives.  His views are with them on voting rights, campaign finance, racial discrimination and religion.  Very important five vote majorities included: Heller, 2008 Second Amendment decision that established the individual right to own guns; Citizens United , the 2010  campaign finance decision expanding the role of money in politics; and Shelby County v.  Holder, 2013 voting rights decision that gutted the Voting Rights Act.

The only time he cast the decisive vote with the Liberals was on the crucial  issue of saving the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, for the American people.  This was Barack Obama’s signature legislative achievement and conservatives never forgave Roberts.  He was denounced as a “traitor”.  Liberals of course, hailed him as a statesman.   During his campaign for president, Trump called Roberts “an absolute disaster.” In June, Roberts did write the majority opinion for Trump’s biggest court victory, limiting travel from predominantly Muslim countries.

Signs that Roberts may move to the Center of the High Court:

During December, Roberts voted with the liberals ,Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan to deny review in two cases on efforts to stop payments to Planned Parenthood . This drew sharp criticism from three conservative justices.  On December 23, Roberts joined the four liberal members again to  reject a request from the Trump administration that could overturn years of asylum policy on immigration .  The Trump administration has also sent petitions and applications to bypass the usual procedures in  Census and Climate Change cases.  Roberts built coalitions of justices to deny the requests, often over the dissents of two or three of the conservative members. Brett Kavanaugh since he became a justice has voted consistently with Roberts except for his vote on the asylum case.

Two block buster cases lie ahead; DACA  Appeals Court ruling saying, Trump must continue the program that protects hundreds of thousands of Dreamers against deportation.  And Trump administration plan to bar transgender people from service in the United States Military.  It is not clear at this time whether the Court will deal with these cases.  It takes four votes to add a case to the docket. If it is argued, where will  Roberts be on final voting?

Sara Benesh, a political scientist at The University of Wisconsin, has said, Chief Justice Roberts has favored moving the law in small steps. She wrote, “Moderation, not just in terms of ideological moderation, but also humility, is kind of his thing. He seems to write limited opinions. He doesn’t reach any further than he has to.  He clearly distinguishes between what he is doing as a judge and what he might believe in terms of policy.”

The Chief Justice has spoken about spending quiet nights at the court looking at the portraits of his sixteen predecessors. He told C-Span in 2010, “They’re probably looking down at me with bemusement or amazement. From time to time, I find it a useful reminder of the role of the court and the role of the chief justice.”

……………………………………………………………………………Joyce S. Anderson

3 thoughts on “Will Chief Justice John Roberts Move to The Center of The Supreme Court?

  1. Let’s just pray that RBG is able to remain on the Court for a while longer. I don’t think Roberts’s
    attempts to maintain some balance on the Court could withstand another Trump appointee.

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