Chief Justice John Roberts cast the deciding vote to uphold the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s signature piece of legislation and a cornerstone of his first term in office. In light of this historic Supreme Court decision, the question remains as to whether this is a one-shot deal on the part of a strictly conservative jurist, or whether he will evolve on the court in the manner of former Chief Justice Earl Warren.
Warren, an Eisenhower nominee to the high court, became far more liberal than expected. His court was responsible for the school desegregation decision in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), and Loving v. Virginia (1967), which struck down remaining anti-miscegenation laws. Warren also mandated publicly-funded legal representation for indigent defendants, kept prosecutors from using illegally obtained evidence, and required that those who are in police custody be read their rights, also known as a Miranda warning.
The jury is still out on Roberts, but before we consider him a new reliable swing vote or a conservative-turned-liberal justice, consider the evidence that this was nothing less than a political move on his part.
Conservative reactions to his deciding vote have ranged from sadness and a sense of betrayal to cognitive dissonance and calls for impeachment. This was not supposed to happen, after all, given that Roberts was firmly planted in the conservative bloc of the Supreme Court, a legacy of the George W. Bush years.
Donald Trump — who seems to have an opinion on everything and reminds the public often — called Roberts a “dummy” for a decision that “makes no sense.” And Trump accused Roberts of being unduly influenced by the media. “I think that Roberts was reading the Washington Post and New York Times and he said, ‘I could come out like a hero if I do what everybody expects me not to do.’ I think he should be ashamed of himself,” Trump said on CNBC.
In addition, Pat Buchanan commented that Roberts is “moving on up” and making a career move to gain acceptance as an independent thinker among the Washington “cognitive” elite. “John Roberts aspires to be a man of history, to have this court known to historians as ‘the Roberts Court.’ And if there is to be a decisive vote in future great decisions, he wants that vote to be his,” Buchanan wrote.
Buchanan added that “John Roberts likely has ahead of him a quarter of a century as chief justice. If he wants to be written of as another John Marshall or Oliver Wendell Holmes, and not Roger Taney, he must pay the price the city demands. If he does not wish to be remembered as a tea party justice, he must deliver the goods. And John Roberts just did.”
Now, few in the black community care much about what either of these men will say next. And yet, Trump and Buchanan make a valid point, which is that Roberts was likely influenced by politics.