The chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court is once again taking flak from both sides of the political aisle.
According to a report published Sunday by The Washington Times, John Roberts’ recent swing votes have both conservatives and liberals alleging that he is basing his decisions on politics rather than the Constitution.
Protecting his reputation
According to The Washington Times‘ Alex Swoyer, “Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. has been labeled the Supreme Court’s swing vote after siding several times with the liberal wing, but both conservative and liberal court watchers say his judicial moves are all about politics.”
Among those Swoyer interviewed is president of the conservative organization Committee For Justice, Curt Levey, who believes Roberts has more on his mind than constitutionality. “Roberts seems to be swinging based much more on strategic considerations, and a lot of it really has to do with how much blowback he thinks he and the court will get,” Levey told the Times.
Levey argued that the chief justice is less concerned with the institution that he leads than he is about his own image. “He is protecting the reputation of the Roberts Court. He is protecting his own reputation,” Levey said, as the Times reported.
“People would say he is trying to protect the legacy of the court,” the conservative activist noted. “But I would ask: Why does protecting the legacy of the court mean ruling or siding with the liberals on the most controversial issues?”
Flip-flopping on the bench
Levey’s words came in the wake of recent decisions by Roberts that have prompted conservatives to call him a “disgrace,” as the Daily Caller noted late last month. Roberts sided with the Supreme Court’s four Democrat-appointed justices in striking down a Louisiana law requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a local hospital, according to the Daily Caller.
“Enforcing the admitting-privileges requirement would drastically reduce the number and geographic distribution of abortion providers, making it impossible for many women to obtain a safe, legal abortion in the State and imposing substantial obstacles on those who could,” Justice Stephen Breyer wrote for the majority.
In a concurring opinion, Roberts said a precedent had been set that renders Lousiana’s law unconstitutional. “The Louisiana law imposes a burden on access to abortion just as severe as that imposed by the Texas law, for the same reasons,” he wrote, as the Daily Caller noted.
The move came as a surprise to many, however, given that the chief justice voted to uphold the Texas law in question a mere four years earlier.
The swing vote
But while conservatives like Levey expressed disappointment with Roberts’ ruling, liberals are expressing relief. “Roberts is only the swing vote because of how extreme the other four Republican-appointed justices are,” Dan Goldberg, who serves as legal director for the left-leaning group Alliance For Justice, told The Washington Times.
Goldberg also expressed alarm that the decision on the Lousiana abortion law came down 5–4 rather than 9–0, saying, according to the Times: “What the Supreme Court just over the last week has demonstrated is how critical the court’s decisions are and how many of our rights and privileges are in many cases hanging by a thread.”
Still, Adam Feldman, the founder of the so-called Empirical SCOTUS blog, contends that despite the ruling, Roberts will continue to lean rightward. “I doubt we will ever see Roberts side with the liberals more often than he does with the conservatives in 5–4 decisions across an entire term,” he told the Times.
If Roberts doesn’t start acting with some consistency, however, he’ll likely lose whatever support he still has left.