Analyst: Next Term May Help to Define Roberts' Approach

Chief Justice John Roberts’s surprise vote on the health care ruling still has analysts struggling to define his jurisprudence. At Reuters, veteran Supreme Court reporter Joan Biskupic suggests more answers — and surprises — may lie ahead.

In a piece entitled “Roberts redux? U.S. top judge may surprise again,” Biskupic warns, “[I]f history is any indication, the 57-year-old chief justice, appointed for life, will surprise again during the course of a legacy that could last decades.”

Looking ahead to the court’s agenda, she notes, “At the top of the heap are cases on affirmative action, voting rights and gay marriage – issues where he may stay the conservative course or further shatter the conventional wisdom.”

Historian Jeff Shesol offers an intriguing view at Slate of the sharply contrasting responses to the chief justice’s health care vote. Justice Roberts sided with the court’s liberal bloc in upholding the core provision of the Affordable Care Act:

“Whatever else he might be, John Roberts is a Rorschach test …. We squint our eyes at Roberts and see, in blurry but corporeal form, our deepest hopes or fears about his court and judges generally. That is why reactions to his decision on the Affordable Care Act have fallen into two familiar archetypes—competing caricatures of judges either as oracles of truth and wisdom, or ‘junior varsity politicians,’ as Justice Stephen Breyer has put it (in contestingthe charge). Both notions have their obvious appeal, but they tend to obscure rather than illuminate the work of judges, and the role they should play in our system of self-government.”

Meanwhile Ciara Torres-Spelliscy has written an essay for Guernica that’s headlined, “The John Roberts Head Fake/The Supreme Court’s decision to uphold Obamacare obscures the ruling’s other, deeply conservative result: a road-map for gutting Congressional power.” She is an assistant professor of Law at Stetson University College of Law.

At the Volokh Conspiracy blog, law professor Randy Barnett of the Georgetown University Law Center has a commentary entitled, “The Unprecedented Uniqueness of Chief Justice Roberts’ Opinion.” At Bloomberg View,  law professor Noah Feldman of Harvard has written “Is the Supreme Court Conservative? Not Yet.”  And “Court’s Divided Ending Belied Unusual Unity,” Jess Bravin reported for the Wall Street Journal.

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