As US Supreme Court opens, all eyes on Chief Justice John Roberts
The US Supreme Court opens its 2012-13 term Monday with Justice Anthony Kennedy again the likely swing vote. But given his vote on the Affordable Care Act, Chief Justice John Roberts may not be predictably conservative either.
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Will it be the hard-charging conservative who struck down election-season speech restrictions on corporations in the 2010 Citizens United decision, and who invalidated racial preferences in public schools in Seattle and Louisville, Ky., in 2007?
Or will it be the circumspect judicial minimalist who guided the high court away from overturning a major provision of the Voting Rights Act in a 2009 Texas case, and who last June voted with the court’s liberal wing to prevent the election-year invalidation of President Obama’s health-care reform law?
The chief justice is expected to have ample opportunity in the new term to become reacquainted with his conservative colleagues in potential blockbuster cases involving affirmative action, voting rights, and gay marriage.
The question is, will he?
Legal analysts suggest Chief Justice Roberts has earned a degree of goodwill from would-be liberal critics in the wake of his surprising vote to uphold the health-care law. Some scholars praised the chief justice’s acrobatic decision as a modern-day version of Marbury v. Madison.
Conservatives scoff at such suggestions. They say Roberts appears to have caved in to bullying and threats from President Obama and others who launched what they say was a sustained campaign of intimidation once it looked as if the court was poised to overturn the health-care mandate.
“Whatever explanation [exists] is not legitimate, because we all agree that it is not a good thing for justices – chief justices – or judges to act politically, to try to split the differences, to try to balance competing imperatives,” Washington lawyer David Rivkin said during a recent panel discussion at the libertarian Cato Institute.
Mr. Rivkin, who served as a lawyer challenging the health-care law, said a similar “campaign of intimidation” would likely arise in future high-stakes cases.
The court’s docket suggests it may not be a long wait.
On Oct. 10, the Supreme Court is set to examine the constitutionality of racial preferences in college admissions at the University of Texas.
In addition, the high court is expected to soon consider whether to take up appeals involving California’s Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriages and whether the Defense of Marriage Act's prohibition on same-sex spouses collecting federal benefits violates the Constitution’s guarantee of equal treatment.