Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts’ position as the court’s new swing vote has become increasingly obvious in recent weeks, as he has been the deciding justice in several high-profile 5-4 decisions in which he sided with the court’s liberal bloc providing hope for Democrats and angering Republicans, according to Fox News.
He has however sided with the conservative corner in a decision that delivered a win for the school choice movement on Tuesday.
However in Monday’s decision in June Medical Services v. Russo, Roberts sided with the liberal members to rule against a Louisiana law restricting who can perform abortions, upholding precedent from a similar case in 2016 in which he was on the other side. This followed his vote in rejecting the Trump administration’s attempt to abolish the DACA program and his vote in a 6-3 decision that prohibited employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
“The Supreme Court’s entering Buffalo Springfield territory: ‘There’s something happening here,'” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said after Monday’s ruling.
Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, observed a similar trend after the DACA decision but was far less enthusiastic about it.
“Over recent years, more and more, Chief Justice Roberts has been playing games with the court to achieve the policy outcomes he desires,” Cruz said on the Senate floor, before citing past instances of what he called “sleight of hands” by Roberts, adding: “This is becoming a pattern.”
Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., celebrated Monday’s ruling while also pointing out that it went against Republican political preferences.
The larger truth about Chief Justice Roberts 15 years into his tenure is he now wields a level of influence that has sent experts digging for historical comparisons.
“Roberts is not only the most powerful player on the court,” said Lee Epstein, a law professor and political scientist at Washington University in St. Louis. “He’s also the most powerful chief justice since at least 1937.”
An incrementalist and an institutionalist, the chief justice usually leads the court to the right in small steps, with one eye on its prestige and legitimacy. He lacks patience with legal shortcuts and, at only 65, can well afford to play the long game, sources from The New York Times.
He took the place of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who retired in 2018, at the court’s ideological center, Chief Justice Roberts’s vote is now the crucial one in closely divided cases. To be both the chief justice and the swing vote confers extraordinary power.
“One of the greatest crises facing the Supreme Court since Marbury v. Madison was F.D.R.’s court-packing plan,” Chief Justice Roberts said in 2015 at New York University, “and it fell to Hughes to guide a very unpopular Supreme Court through that high-noon showdown against America’s most popular president since George Washington.”
“There are things to learn from it,” Chief Justice Roberts said, and he has seemed to apply those lessons to his relationship with Mr. Trump, who has attacked the very idea of judicial independence.