Chief Justice John Roberts defends Supreme Court legitimacy

Roberts, without directly mentioning the protests, said all court opinions are open to criticism, but he insisted that “simply because people disagree with opinions, there is no basis for questioning the court’s legitimacy.” to pull.”

He said the court’s job is to interpret the constitution – a task that should not be left to the political branches or driven by public opinion.

Speaking to an audience of judges attending the 10th Circuit Bench and Bar Conference in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Roberts noted that the metal barricade installed around the building is now down, and he announced that when the judges return to the bench with a new term starting next month, the public will finally be able to attend the pleadings in person again.

Judge Neil Gorsuch, who oversees the 10th Circuit and spoke on Thursday, sat in the front row for the chief judge’s comments.

Acknowledging that the past year had been “difficult in many ways,” Roberts said he and his colleagues are working to move forward.

“I think the best way to respond to things that were unhappy is to just keep going,” he said.

He also praised his newest colleague, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, and announced that she will have her official inauguration on September 30. “She’s going to be a great judge,” he said.

Roberts spoke less than a month before a new term begins, as the court and the country continue to deal with the tumult of rulings in a series of highly divisive cases, the unprecedented leak of a draft opinion and glimpses of growing tension on a court led by an aggressive conservative majority.

The new term starts on October 3 in the shadow of the midterm elections and the judges will consider issues that deeply divide the public, such as affirmative action, voting rights, environmental rules, immigration and religious freedom.

During pleadings and at conferences, Roberts will try to set the tone of the proceedings, carefully navigating a court made up of six Republican appointees and three Democratic, including Jackson, who was sworn in on June 30.

Roberts is in an unusual spot, complicated by the fact that there are now five judges to his right who have shown a tendency to reject incrementalism in favor of sweeping opinions that sometimes overturn precedents. It may be called the ‘Roberts Court’, but the Chief Justice has only one vote and he has sometimes cast it with a particular sensitivity to institutional matters.

“This term will once again test the chief’s influence on the conservative wing of the court,” Gregory G. Garre, an attorney at Latham & Watkins who served as Solicitor General during the George W. Bush administration, said in an interview. .

Roberts has joked about the limits of his role before.

“I learned early on that when you’re holding the reins of leadership, you have to be careful not to pull too much on them — you’ll find they’re not connected to anything,” Roberts said, laughing during a 2016 performance on New England- law.

Positive action and voting rights

Last term, Roberts’ conservative colleagues left him behind in the historic Dobbs v. Jackson abortion case.

Roberts is alleged to have allowed the controversial Mississippi law, which would limit access to abortion for 15 weeks after conception, to be in effect, but said he would stop rolling back Roe, a trailblazing opinion that already was on the books for almost 50 years. “I would take a more measured course,” the chief wrote. No other judge joined him in arguably the most important case decided by the court during his tenure.

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“As the Dobbs decision underlined previous term, as only one of six judges in the Conservative majority, the chief no longer has control over the outcome or the scope of the decisions,” Garre said.

This term could make for a different story, however, as Roberts is likely to align with his fellow conservatives as the judges consider two areas: affirmative action and voting rights. In previous cases, Roberts has made it clear that he is skeptical of racial preferences and has voted to restrict voting rights.

“In previous cases, the chief himself has led the conservative judges in curbing the use of race in this context,” Garre said. “But the chief’s institutional instincts may lead him to push for a ruling that at least prevents an overruling precedent in this area.”

The affirmative action cases will be heard on Oct. 31 as the judges consider the use of race a factor in college admissions at Harvard College and the University of North Carolina. (Jackson will not participate in the Harvard case.)

Roberts disagreed in 2016 when the court upheld the race-conscious admissions program at the University of Texas.

In addition, in a 2007 case with Roberts in the majority, the court dropped race-based public school assignment programs in Seattle and Louisville.

“For schools that have never been segregated on the basis of race, such as Seattle, or that have removed the vestiges of past segregation, such as Jefferson County, the way to achieve a system of public school admissions to non-racial basis, to stop assigning students based on race,” Roberts wrote. “The way to stop racial discrimination is to stop racial discrimination.”

In 2014, the court endorsed a Michigan ballot initiative that banned race-based preferences as part of the state university admissions process. Judge Sonia Sotomayor wrote a rousing dissent, emphatically repeating some of Roberts’ native language in the 2007 case. Robert responded.

The dissent argues that ‘the way to stop discrimination based on race is to speak openly and candidly on the subject of race.’ And it urges that'[r]ace is important because of the disdain, the chuckle, the silent judgments that amplify those most crippling thoughts: ‘I don’t belong here,’” Roberts wrote.

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“But it is not ‘apart from reality’ to conclude that racial preferences themselves can have the debilitating effect of amplifying exactly that doubt, and — if so — that preferences do more harm than good. the dissidents’ view of the costs and benefits of racial preferences is not to “wipe away rather than confront” racial inequality.People may disagree on this issue in good faith, but it does more harm than good to openness and sincerity of those on both sides to question the debate.”

Voting rights

The court will also examine the scope of Section 2 of the Historic Voting Rights Act, which prohibits rules that result in a disqualification or curtailment of voting rights on the basis of race. The law has become an important tool to prohibit discrimination in voting.

It concerns a lower court opinion that invalidated the Alabama Congressional map as a likely violation of the law. The lower court ordered a new majority of the black district to be drawn. But in February, a 5-4 Supreme Court froze that ruling at the request of the state, allowing the current cards provisionally, and agreed to hear the dispute this term.

Roberts sided with the dissent Liberals arguing that the majority was wrong to freeze the lower court’s ruling. “The court correctly applied the existing law in a comprehensive opinion with no apparent errors for our correction,” Roberts said. But critically, Roberts added that while he wouldn’t have granted a reprieve, he did think the court should hold oral arguments “to resolve the wide range of uncertainties arising from precedent.”

Voting advocates are on edge — aware that Roberts wrote an op-ed in 2013 that effectively invalidated a separate section of the law that required states with a history of discrimination to obtain federal approval before changing electoral laws.

“Things have changed in the South,” Roberts said at the time.

At the time, Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote a scathing dissent arguing that the court’s move was akin to “throwing your umbrella in a rainstorm because you won’t get wet.”

Disputes as well as a host of others will come as the court’s approval rating hits a new low, and some of the latest term’s opinions placed the judges at the center of political debate. In addition, the court is still struggling behind the scenes with an investigation into the leakage of the Dobbs concept. Although the judges continue to emphasize the importance of civility in public, the decisions of the past period have revealed new tensions.

This story has been updated.