This is Chief Justice Roberts’ court, but is he still in charge?

WASHINGTON – John Roberts heads the Supreme Court in crisis.

The chief justice has already ordered an investigation into the expiration of a draft opinion this week, suggesting the court may be ready to overturn Rowe v. Wade, a 1973 case legalizing abortion across the country. What follows may further test Roberts’ leadership in court, where his vote now seems less decisive in determining the outcome of contentious cases.

“This is a time when the court is under siege, both externally and internally now,” said Todd Pepper, a professor at Roanoke College who wrote for the court. “I just don’t think the spotlight has been brighter on the court in recent history.”


Speaking at a court conference in Atlanta on Thursday, Roberts called the leak “horrific,” according to CNN.

Roberts’ court faced challenges even before information leaked, which the boss called a “betrayal of the court’s trust.” Surveys show a marked decline in public approval of the court. And there have been recent calls for restrictions on judges ‘mandates and an increase in the number of judges, as well as a code of ethics, especially after reports that Judge Clarence Thomas’ wife, Virginia, is begging Donald Trump’s chief of staff to act to overturn since the 2020 presidential election. Hearings to confirm the newest judges in court have been controversial.


The addition of three conservative judges during Trump’s presidency also means that there are now five conservative judges on Roberts’s right who no longer need his voice, and perhaps his moderating influence, to prevail in a case. The decision to have an abortion can be another example of this, as other conservatives in the court are willing to go further than Roberts.

Roberts, 67, has marked the boundaries of his position in the past. Asked during a performance in 2018 how different it is to be a boss, Roberts replied: “It’s different in many ways. Most importantly, it is not. I have one vote. I participate in the decision-making of the court like any of the court assistants. “


However, there is a reason for the boss to be called “the first among equals” and that historians refer to periods of time in court, using the name of the chief judge: Marshall Court, Renquist Court, Roberts Court. The chief is the first to speak when the judges discuss the cases at their private conference and chair this discussion. The chief decides who writes the opinion of the court when the boss is the majority.

Roberts, appointed to President George W. Bush, has faced other challenges in his 16 years as boss. He is leading the court on gay marriage disputes, President Barack Obama’s health law and Trump-era policies, including the construction of a wall on the US-Mexico border and the travel ban.


In 2020, Roberts was in the spotlight, presiding over Trump’s first impeachment trial, although his role was modest. At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, he took the court through a period in which he decided to adjourn the disputes for the first time in more than 100 years and then have them on the phone for more than a year and a half.

At the beginning of his term, in a speech during his graduation from Georgetown Law School and elsewhere, Roberts explained his philosophy of directing the court and his preference for decisions where there could be broad consensus on narrow grounds.


“There are clear benefits to a greater degree of consensus in court. Unanimity or almost unanimity promotes clarity and guidance for lawyers and lower courts who are trying to understand what the Supreme Court meant, “he said in 2006. He added:” The rule of law is strengthened when there is more great coherence and agreement on what the law is. “

Artemus Ward, a professor at the University of Northern Illinois who is one of the editors of a research book on chief justices, said Roberts was “trying to reach a consensus by trying to govern closely.” But after the death of Judge Ruth Bader Ginsberg, a liberal, and her replacement by Conservative Judge Amy Connie Barrett, “Roberts’ voice is less powerful” because there are five conservative votes even without him, Ward said.


There is already some evidence of the impact of this.

Prior to Ginsberg’s death, Roberts joined the four Liberals in court to reject the challenge of California’s attendance restrictions on religious services over the coronavirus pandemic. But about a month after Barrett joined the court, the judges ruled 5-4 differently in a case of similar restrictions in New York, with Roberts and the Liberals disagreeing.

In September last year, a court ruled 5-4 not to block a new Texas law banning most abortions in the state. Again, Roberts and the three liberal judges disagreed.


The same panel was in February, when the Supreme Court postponed a lower court ruling that Alabama must prepare new constituencies before Congress in the 2022 election to increase black electorate. And in April, when the court restored the rule of water from the Trump era.

“Roberts has lost control of the Supreme Court,” was the title of an article written the same month by Professor Stephen I. Vladek of the University of Texas Law School.

It remains to be seen how divided and to what extent the court will be in relation to other decisions, including a major decision on weapons that have yet to be released before the summer recess.


It is also unknown to what extent the final opinion in the abortion case will reflect an expired draft written by Judge Samuel Alito and circulated to other members of the court in February. Politico reported that Alito had the votes of four other Conservatives to overturn Rowe v. Wade and a later ruling confirming the constitutional right to abortion services, Planned Parenthood v. Casey. The three Liberals planned to express disagreement, Politico said, while Roberts’ final vote was unclear.

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This is Chief Justice Roberts’ court, but is he still in charge?

Source link This is Chief Justice Roberts’ court, but is he still in charge?

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