John Glover Roberts Jr. was always considered to be a staunch conservative from the time he served as a law clerk for Judges Henry Friendly and William Rehnquist to his time in the Attorney General’s office, Justice Department and Office of the White House Counsel. In 2003, President George W. Bush appointed Roberts to a judgeship on the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit because of his conservative views. In 2005, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor announced her retirement and Bush nominated Roberts to fill her seat on the high court. Prior to his nomination being confirmed, Chief Justice Rehnquist died and Bush changed the nomination of Roberts from filling O’Connor’s seat to that of replacing Rehnquist as Chief Justice. Bush took this action because of Roberts’ strong conservative views.
From the time of Roberts’ confirmation and swearing in as the highest judge in the land in 2005 through 2011, he consistently voted conservatively of the vast majority of cases. That all seemed to change in 2012 when he shocked the conservative world with his vote to uphold the Affordable Care Act and the individual mandate. The vote was 5-4 with Roberts siding with the 4 liberals and not the 4 conservatives.
Currently, the Supreme Court consists of 4 very liberal justices – Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor; and four conservative justices – Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. With Roberts’ history of being a conservative, it appeared that conservatives had a narrow 5-4 advantage over the liberals but that may not be true now.
Starting with the infamous 2012 vote on the Affordable Care Act, Roberts has sided more often with the liberal judges than he has with the conservative ones. Adam Winkler points out:
“The 2012 health care case was the first time Roberts had ever voted with the liberal side of the court in a 5–4 decision. Lately, however, we’re seeing a very different Roberts. Last term Roberts surprised many by breaking left on a few major cases. And so far this term, Roberts has voted with Stephen Breyer (90 percent), Ruth Bader Ginsburg (85 percent), and Sonia Sotomayor (83 percent) more often than he has joined Thomas (66 percent), Kennedy (74 percent), and Alito (77 percent). And that isn’t just on minor cases. He’s recently sided with the liberals in cases on issues that typically divide the court along ideological lines, including campaign finance and anti-discrimination law.”
What is it about the liberal left or as often refer to it as the ‘dark side,’ that has drawn Roberts over? I’ve searched and found a few theories but everyone admits that the reason for his shift is obscure at best. He has not given any reason for his change in views so you are free speculate all you want but until he opens up, that’s all it will be, just speculation.
One thing is clear and that it is no longer safe to think that conservatives still hold that narrow 5-4 edge. On Friday I posted an article that demonstrates the shift in Chief Justice John Roberts. In 2008 Roberts voted in favor of Dick Heller and his lawsuit challenging the guns laws in Washington DC. Roberts upheld Heller’s Second Amendment rights to own a handgun and to keep it accessible in his home for the purpose of self-defense.
However, on Monday, the Supreme Court refused to hear a lawsuit challenging a San Francisco ordinance that requires all handguns be kept in a locked case or have a trigger lock in place. The only exception would be to allow anyone living in the home that is 18 years old or older to physically carry the gun on them while in the home.
Several gun owners in the San Francisco filed a lawsuit challenging the city’s ordinance claiming it violated their Second Amendment rights. A key part of their argument was the 2008 Supreme Court ruling in the Heller case which stated such a law clearly violated a gun owner’s Second Amendment rights.
The only justices that voted to hear this lawsuit were Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. John Roberts did not vote to hear this case which many are already viewing as another sign of his conversion to the dark side of liberalism. At age 60, it’s quite possible that Roberts may remain Chief Justice for another 10, 20 or more years. Only time will tell just far Roberts has turned to the dark side of liberalism.