John Roberts is 'powerless' and 'clearly can’t control' his court: legal experts

John Roberts is 'powerless' and 'clearly can’t control' his court: legal experts
Image via Wikimedia Commons / Medill DC

Reflecting on a concurring opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts that was part of the 6-3 Supreme Court decision that dismantled the 50-year-old Roe v Wade ruling that paved the way for women to get an abortion, two legal scholars suggested that he has lost control of the court era that bears his name and could see his legacy suffer because of it.

According to a report from Politico's Josh Gerstein, Roberts tried to rein in some of his conservative colleagues' worst impulses in his concurrence but it fell on deaf ears on both sides of the ideological aisles and was ignored by everyone as the court made history.

As Gerstein wrote, "After nearly seven months of deliberations, Roberts found precisely zero takers among his fellow justices for his incrementalist approach that would have avoided overruling Roe for now, but allowed Mississippi to impose a near ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy," before adding, "The court’s conservatives dismissed Roberts’ stance as unprincipled and impractical, while the liberal justices called it “wrong” without detailing their objections."

Writing that now, "the Roberts court legacy takes on a historic taint of polarization that the chief justice may not be able to unwind as he stares down the remaining years of his term overseeing a court that he clearly can’t control or cajole," Gerstein asked University of Texas law professor Stephen Vladeck what he thought about Friday's ruling.

“This was clearly a rough term, but here is the capstone piece of evidence of just how little this is still the Roberts court,” Vladeck explained. “This is a court that is fighting with each other past the chief. The bitterness, the intensity, the hostility is a reflection of the chief’s powerlessness because he can’t control either block.”

According to American University historian Stephen Wermiel, "This stands as the most important decision of his tenure as chief justice and he’s not part of it.”

He then added, "Roberts obviously tried hard to persuade the court I think to not go that far. … I presume he put all his cards on the table and, in the most important case of his tenure, he came up short.”

According to the Politico report, "Roberts on Friday found himself alone. He tried to avoid the very fallout that he believed the court could have avoided by stopping short of overturning Roe, and seems keenly aware of how Americans view the Supreme Court. The court continues to drop in its approval ratings with the public and it can’t seem to escape the perception that the institution’s decisions are being driven by politics, not principle."

Adding, "The snub Roberts suffered Friday would be humbling for any chief justice given the way in which abortion-related decisions bring a white-hot spotlight to the court. But it’s just the latest in a series of blows Roberts has sustained in recent weeks that have fueled doubts about his ability to manage an increasingly fractious court," Politico is reporting, "Roberts had to weather Friday his conservative colleagues uniformly endorsing an opinion unapologetically picking apart his suggestion that the court stop short of overturning Roe v. Wade and “leave for another day” the most pointed questions about that decision. Indeed, the only substantive changes to Justice Samuel Alito’s original draft are rebuttals to the dissenters and to Roberts’ argument for more restraint from the court."

You can read more here.

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