Roberts Sheds Aura Of Predictability With Ruling | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

NPR : News

Filed Under:

Roberts Sheds Aura Of Predictability With Ruling

After Chief Justice John Roberts read the Supreme Court's majority opinion Thursday that upheld the Affordable Care Act, the reaction from conservatives was predictable and strong. But Roberts is far from the first justice to act in unexpected ways.

Justices don't always turn out the way presidents (and commentators) might hope. President Dwight D. Eisenhower famously said his appointment of Chief Justice Earl Warren "was the biggest damn fool thing I ever did."

And Eisenhower wasn't the only president to be disappointed in his pick. President Richard Nixon had his Justice Harry Blackmun; Reagan, his Sandra Day O'Connor. George H.W. Bush had David Souter. They all turned out to different from expected once they donned their Supreme Court robes.

"He's a skilled lawyer. Yes, he's got ideological leanings, but he also listens carefully to all the arguments," Michael Dorf, a professor at Cornell University Law School and a former law clerk for Justice Anthony Kennedy, said of Roberts.

Dorf cautioned against reading too much into Roberts' health care ruling. "He's still basically a conservative. Anyone who thinks Roberts is the next Blackmun, O'Connor or Souter is mistaken, I think," Dorf says.

This week's rulings aside, Roberts has sided overwhelmingly with the court's conservatives — Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito against the more liberal wing, including Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor. But, as in the cases this week, he has also shown an occasional willingness to cross over the ideological divide.

"I understand why conservatives are going to criticize him, but I think they're only thinking about what happened today and not looking at the bigger picture," said Steve Wermiel, a fellow at American University's Washington College of Law.

Roberts has sought to try to bring more consensus to the court divided during the years of his predecessor, Chief Justice William Rehnquist — a court that saw numerous 5-4 decisions that split along right-left sides of the bench, says Wermiel.

"From the moment he took his seat, Roberts has said he hoped the Supreme Court would do a better job of reaching consensus," Wermiel says. "He's sincerely wanted to do that, but it hasn't always been possible."

Thursday marked the second time in a week Roberts sided with the court's four liberal justices against dissenting conservatives.

Earlier in the week, Roberts had joined a mostly liberal bloc in a 5-3 decision that struck down several provisions in a controversial Arizona immigration law.

Roberts' action Thursday was enough to send right-wing commentators into a frenzy. What had happened to the man who was expected to use his chief justice clout to corral reliable conservative majorities?

The Daily Caller's Neil Munro said "Robert's decision to side with progressives is a disappointment for conservatives. He was nominated by President George W. Bush, and was expected to be a reliable advocate for small government."

At the National Review Online, Andrew McCarthy opined that it was "intolerable for the Supreme Court to aid and abet Congress and the president in the commission of a massive fraud."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

If Robots 'Speak,' Will We Listen? Novel Imagines A Future Changed By AI

As artificial intelligence alters human connection, Louisa Hall's characters wrestle with whether machines can truly feel. Some "feel they have to stand up for a robot's right to exist," Hall says.
NPR

Aphrodisiacs Can Spark Sexual Imagination, But Probably Not Libido

Going on a picnic with someone special? Make sure to pack watermelon, a food that lore says is an aphrodisiac. No food is actually scientifically linked to desire, but here's how some got that rep.
NPR

A Reopened Embassy In Havana Could Be A Boon For U.S. Businesses

When the U.S. reopens its embassy in Havana, it will increase its staff. That should mean more help for American businesses hoping to gain a foothold on the Communist island.
NPR

In A Twist, Tech Companies Are Outsourcing Computer Work To ... Humans

A new trend is sweeping the tech world: hiring real people. NPR's Arun Rath talks to Wired reporter Julia Greenberg about why tech giants are learning to trust human instinct instead of algorithms.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.