The Role of the Chief Justice and the Roberts Court

What is the Role of the Chief Justice on the Supreme Court?

What is Happening to the Supreme Court? It's hard to watch...

According the National Women’s Law Center, the role of the “Chief Justice leads and shapes the character of the Supreme Court he presides over”:

“First, the Chief Justice defines and symbolizes the Supreme Court.”

“…the Chief Justice leads and shapes the character of the Supreme Court that he presides over.”

“When the Justices meet to discuss cases and to vote on them, the Chief Justice leads the discussion. The Chief is also the first to circulate a list of the cases he (or she, although we have never had a female Chief Justice) thinks the Court should agree to hear in the next term.  The Chief Justice can also influence the Court by assigning opinions among the Justices.”

“These procedural powers allow the Chief to shape the Court’s agenda, and in some cases to substantially affect how an opinion is written.”

According to Linda Greenhouse, formerly chief Supreme Court correspondent for the New York Times and winner of the 1998 Pulitzer Prize, in her commentary posted on opinionator.blogs.nytimes.comcom on March 25, 2010, she said of Chief Justice Roberts in regards to whether the Supreme Court would possibly find “the new health care legislation unconstitutional”:

“John Roberts is an acutely image-conscious chief justice, as watchful and protective of the Supreme Court’s image as he is of his own. I find it almost impossible to believe that this careful student of history would place his court in the same position as the court that has been rewarded with history’s negative judgment for thwarting the early New Deal.”

Let’s hope that Linda Greenhouse’s appraisal of the Roberts Court rings true and that the Supreme Court will reject the truly frivolous lawsuit filed in March 2010 by fourteen state attorneys general asking “federal judges to declare the new Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act unconstitutional.” This lawsuit was filed as soon as President Obama signed the bill.  However a recent article by Adam Liptak in the New York Times on July 24, 2010 reveals that the Roberts Court is the “most conservative one in living memory, based on an analysis of four sets of political science data.”

The Alarm Bells Went Off when the Roberts Court voted to allow Corporate Money to Freely Flow in the Citizens United Case:

Meaow! Meaow! Meaow! Finally, McCain-Feingold passed in 2002 and there were some restraints put on corporate spending in elections in order to prevent the outright buying of candidates in oh so many little ways!

Chief Justice John Roberts as part of his responsibilities decides who writes the briefs when he is in the majority Supreme Court opinion. He cleverly wooed Justice Kennedy by giving him the job of writing the majority opinion of Citizens United v Federal Election Commission. Justice Kennedy, potential swing voter on this important case, voted with Roberts to claim that corporations and unions should not have their free speech stopped in any way by invoking the First Amendment. Kennedy wrote in his brief:

“If the First Amendment has any force, it prohibits Congress from fining or jailing citizens, or associations of citizens, for simply engaging in political speech.”

Isn’t this just ducky that this decision comes as we are gearing up for November 2010 mid-term elections. Also, the Roberts Court was responsible for asking the plaintiffs attorney in the Citizens United v FEC case to broaden the scope of the questions raised in the lawsuit. The Citizens United plaintiffs then brought in first amendment issues. Wasn’t it activist for the Court to suggest to plaintiff’s attorneys to broaden the scope of this case?  MEAOW – Yes.

Smart ducks disagree with the Roberts Court decision on Citizens United. They understand that too much corporate money in elections will create an unfair playing field. Are elections supposed to be up for grabs and go to the candidate with the biggest corporate war chest from inside or outside a particular candidate’s campaign?

Little Duckies protest the Citizens United Supreme Court Decision

Little Duckies protest the Citizens United Supreme Court Decision

Was Roberts surprised when many legal scholars including President Obama cried foul that corporations are now interpreted to have the same right as citizens based on the Citizens United Case?

Rewind to John Roberts Senate Confirmation Hearings in September 2005:

John Roberts Confirmation

Wow, wasn’t Chief Justice Roberts someone who at one time said he believed in settled law, and not acting in an “activist” manner? Hmmm, at his confirmation hearings, Roberts said:

Judges are like umpires…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.”

Oh, wait, when Roberts decides something, he does not think he is being a “judicial activist”.

However, the Supreme Court majority 5-4 decision on the Citizens United Case:

  1. Overturned 103 years of settled law
  2. Now allows corporations to give endless amounts of money for attack ads or other political ads to be able to support the candidate of their choice up until election day.

The recent Roberts Court decision in the Citizens United Case is a major activist action.

Colbert speaks out about it.

In his role as the Senior Justice on the Court, Justice Stevens decides who writes the opinion when the Chief Justice is in the minority decision. His dissenting opinion in the Citizens United Case stated:

“At bottom, the Court’s opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self-government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt. It is a strange time to repudiate that common sense. While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.”

How would you define an “activist” judge?

At the Alabama Law School on March 9, 2010, Justice Roberts gave a lecture on the History of Law and also took questions from students.

One student asked Roberts:

“Chief Justice Roberts, earlier in the season the Supreme Court had a 5-4 decision to remove corporate funding limits on presidential elections. Some critics would say that provides opportunity to corrupt democracy. I wonder what your rebuttal to that would be?”

Justice Roberts answered:

(Slight Laugh), Oh, I did vote on that, and, uh I’ll have to let my opinion in that case speak for itself.

See C-Span’s coverage of the student exchanges with Roberts at 42:25 minutes into the following video:


This entry was posted in election integrity, Elections, News, Politics, President Barack Obama, senate, Supreme Court and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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