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“No More Mr. Nice Guy”: The Conservatism of Chief Justice Roberts

May 18, 2009

Jeffrey Toobin, author of “The Nine”, a book about the current Supreme Court, its decision in Bush v. Gore and its historically conservative membership, takes a closer look at Chief Justice John Roberts, a well-qualified, undeniably smart, arch-conservative jurist who will likely be on the court for decades to come. The impact of George W. Bush’s appointment of this one judge is likely to have a significance that far outweighs most, if not all, of his non war-related decisions. And, if his votes since joining the court are any indication, his jurisprudence has produced one truly reliable result: supporting the policies of political conservatives. An excerpt:

Roberts’s hard-edged performance at oral argument offers more than just a rhetorical contrast to the rendering of himself that he presented at his confirmation hearing. “Judges are like umpires,” Roberts said at the time. “Umpires don’t make the rules. They apply them. The role of an umpire and a judge is critical. They make sure everybody plays by the rules. But it is a limited role. Nobody ever went to a ballgame to see the umpire.” His jurisprudence as Chief Justice, Roberts said, would be characterized by “modesty and humility.” After four years on the Court, however, Roberts’s record is not that of a humble moderate but, rather, that of a doctrinaire conservative. The kind of humility that Roberts favors reflects a view that the Court should almost always defer to the existing power relationships in society. In every major case since he became the nation’s seventeenth Chief Justice, Roberts has sided with the prosecution over the defendant, the state over the condemned, the executive branch over the legislative, and the corporate defendant over the individual plaintiff. Even more than Scalia, who has embodied judicial conservatism during a generation of service on the Supreme Court, Roberts has served the interests, and reflected the values, of the contemporary Republican Party.

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