On November 21, 2018, John Roberts remarked that “We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges. What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them. That independent judiciary is something we should all be thankful for.”
Until 2018, Justice Anthony Kennedy was the swing vote on the United States Supreme Court. Now, the swing vote belongs to Chief Justice John Roberts. The United States Supreme Court has long been seemingly untouchable from the political atmosphere. Politicians that have attempted to begrudge the Court, either by denouncing its rulings or justices themselves, have found themselves rebuked by the populus and, on rare occasions, the court itself.
During the impeachment trial of U.S. President Donald Trump, Chief Justice John Roberts remarked, “I think it is appropriate at this point for me to admonish both the House managers and the president’s counsel in equal terms to remember that they are addressing the world’s greatest deliberative body.” Notably, in this statement, Roberts mentioned both Republican lawyers, representing the President, as well as Democratic-appointed house impeachment managers.
Throughout the Roberts court, a “swing vote” has existed, allowing rulings, although split, to numerically balance between Democratic and Republican wishes. On June 18, in Department of Homeland Security Et. Al. v. Regents of the University of California, the Court pushed back on a Trump-led, Republican effort to end the DACA “Dreamers” program that deprioritizes undocumented youth that fit a certain criteria for deportation. Not a month later, on July 8, 2020, the Court ruled in Little Sisters of the Poor Saints Peter and Paul Home v. Pennsylvania, Et. Al. that the Affordable Care Act, passed under Obama, could not require employers to provide free contraception.
This is an isolated trend, right? Probably not. Out of the last four high-profile cases naming President Trump in the petition, two were ruled in favor of Trump and two against: In Seila Law LLC v. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Court ruled that Trump could fire a consumer protection watchdog without cause; in Bostock and Funeral Homes the Court ruled that the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects gay and transgender individuals; in June Medical Services v. Russo, the Court ruled with the Democratic stance; and, in Little Sisters the Court ruled that Trump could end a provision of the Affordable Care Act mandating employers to provide free contraception to employees.
The Supreme Court’s self-written mandate is to interpret issues of legality and constitutionality, and through decisions and opinions, uphold the Constitution. Perhaps another interpretation of this is to maintain faith in the Constitution and the unbiased, nonpartisan nature of the Supreme Court by ostensibly not supporting either party. Chief Justice Roberts has continuously defended the independent nature of the Supreme Court against both notable Democrats and republicans, including but not limited to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Shumer (D-N.Y.) and President Donald Trump.
The extent of the Chief Justice’s influence over other justices on the Court is unknown, and most likely minimal. However, out of the four aforementioned high-profile cases, Roberts was the deciding vote on three of them. Before Roberts, Justice Anthony Kennedy was respected as an independent jurist that maintained the integrity of the Court. Roberts will most likely continue to exert a similar influence on Court decisions in order to maintain the integrity and independence of the U.S. Supreme Court in politics.