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The Roberts Court

Erik Sofranko

Posted on April 3, 2022 17:13

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With the Supreme Court about to add a new justice, it’s worth taking a look at how the Roberts Court has guided judicial philosophy since Chief Justice John Roberts joined the Supreme Court in 2005.

President Biden’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Katanji Brown Jackson, will likely be confirmed to the Supreme Court within the next month. Her confirmation will not impact the current ideological slant of the Court as she will be replacing retiring liberal Justice Stephen Breyer. The Supreme Court will maintain its 6-3 conservative majority established during the Trump administration. 

For the entirety of the Roberts Court (2005-present), the ideological tilt has been toward the right. This does not mean every ruling has been in favor of conservatives. So far, the legacy of the Roberts Court has been both unpredictability and an increased public perception of the Supreme Court as a political tool, even though the Constitution intends for the Court to be non-ideological in nature.

The Roberts Court has delivered several major landmark rulings on controversial issues, including gun control, campaign finance regulations, health care, and gay marriage. All of these rulings were 5-4 decisions.

In 2008, DC v. Heller resulted in the affirmation of the Second Amendment as a guarantee of the right of individuals to own firearms, regardless of whether they have served in a militia. This was a 5-4 decision that is now the landmark precedent for the issue of gun control in the United States.

In 2010, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission established the right for corporations, unions, and non-profits to donate to political campaigns, specifically for campaign advertising, as a form of free speech guaranteed by the First Amendment. This controversial 5-4 decision struck down the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, which prohibited campaigns from using corporate money to advertise during election seasons.

In 2012, another 5-4 decision upheld the Affordable Care Act as constitutional in the case of National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius. Chief Justice John Roberts voted with the liberal justices as he argued that the individual mandate to purchase health insurance was protected by Congress’s power of taxation. The Legislative Branch made this ruling irrelevant in 2017 as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed and signed into law during the Trump Administration repealed this individual mandate.

In the 2015 case of Obergfell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide in a 5-4 decision delivered by Justice Anthony Kennedy. Until this decision, same-sex marriage had been legalized on a state-by-state basis as outlined by the Tenth Amendment, but the Supreme Court held that same-sex marriage is federally protected through both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause established in the Constitution.

Many progressives have argued that the Supreme Court needs to be expanded to provide a balance to the current 6-3 conservative majority. Biden has responded to progressives by saying he will establish a commission to study the issue of court expansion, which is political talk for, “It will not happen.”

Erik Sofranko

Posted on April 3, 2022 17:13

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