Roberts Court

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The Roberts Court prior to Scalia's death, October 2010
Back row (left to right): Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen G. Breyer, Samuel A. Alito, and Elena Kagan. Front row (left to right): Clarence Thomas, the late Antonin Scalia, Chief Justice John Roberts, Anthony Kennedy, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg

The Roberts Court refers to the Supreme Court of the United States since 2005, under the leadership of Chief Justice John G. Roberts. It is generally considered more conservative than the preceding Rehnquist Court, as a result of the retirement of moderate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and the subsequent confirmation of the more conservative Justice Samuel Alito in her place.[1]


Roberts was originally nominated by President George W. Bush to replace Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who had decided to retire from the Court. However, Roberts was instead nominated to replace Chief Justice William Rehnquist after the latter's death, and Roberts's nomination was confirmed by the Senate in 2005. Roberts took the Constitutional oath of office, administered by senior Associate Justice John Paul Stevens at the White House, on September 29, 2005, almost immediately after his confirmation. On October 3, Roberts took the judicial oath provided for by the Judiciary Act of 1789, prior to the first oral arguments of the 2005 term. The Roberts Court commenced with Roberts as Chief Justice and eight holdovers from the Rehnquist Court: Stevens, O'Connor, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, David Souter, Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Stephen Breyer. O'Connor was replaced in 2006 by Samuel Alito, who was nominated by President Bush after the withdrawal of Bush's first nominee, White House Counsel Harriet Miers. In 2009, President Barack Obama nominated Sonia Sotomayor to replace Souter, and in 2010 Obama nominated Elena Kagan to replace Stevens. Justice Scalia died in February 2016, and in March 2016 Obama nominated Merrick Garland. As of April 2016, Garland's nomination is pending before the Senate, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley have stated that the Senate will not confirm a nominee until after the 2016 presidential election.[2]

Elena Kagan Sonia Sotomayor Samuel Alito Stephen Breyer Ruth Bader Ginsburg Clarence Thomas David Souter Anthony Kennedy Antonin Scalia Sandra Day O'Connor John Paul Stevens John Roberts

Chief Justice Associate Justice

Rulings of the Court[edit]

In its first ten years, the Roberts court has issued major rulings on gun control, affirmative action, campaign finance regulation, abortion, capital punishment, gay rights, and criminal sentencing. Major decisions of the Roberts Court include:[3][4]

Judicial philosophy[edit]

The Roberts Court has been described as "conservative in most cases, liberal in some," with (prior to the death of Justice Scalia) five conservative-leaning justices and four liberal-leaning justices. Alito, Thomas, Kennedy, Roberts, and Scalia (prior to his death) generally have taken more conservative positions, while Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan have generally taken more liberal positions. Souter and Stevens had also been part of the liberal bloc prior to their respective retirements. These two blocs of voters have lined up together in several major cases, though Justice Kennedy has often sided with the liberal bloc. Roberts has also served as a swing vote, often advocating for narrow rulings and compromise among the two blocs of Justices.[4][6] Though the Court often does divide along ideological lines, attorney and SCOTUSblog founder Tom Goldstein has noted that many cases are decided 9-0 and that the individual judges hold a wide array of views.[7]

The judicial philosophy of Roberts on the Supreme Court has been assessed by leading court commentators including Jeffrey Rosen[8] and Marcia Coyle.[9] Although Roberts is identified as having a conservative judicial philosophy, his vote in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius (2012) upholding the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) has caused reflection in the press concerning the comparative standing of his conservative judicial philosophy compared to other sitting justices of conservative orientation. Roberts is also compared to other recent conservative justices no longer on the Court. Regarding William Rehnquist, Roberts is seen as having a more moderate conservative orientation particularly when Bush v. Gore for Rehnquist is compared to Roberts' vote for ACA.[10]

Regarding Roberts' immediate and current peers on the bench, his judicial philosophy is seen as more moderate and conciliatory than that of Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.[8][10] Unlike Scalia, Roberts has not indicated any particularly enhanced reading of originalism or framer's intentions as has been plainly evident in Scalia's speeches and writings.[9] Roberts' strongest inclination on the Court has been to attempt to re-establish the centrist orientation of the Court as being party neutral, in contrast to his predecessor Rehnquist who had devoted significant effort to promote a states rights orientation for the Court. Roberts' voting pattern reflecting his conservative judicial philosophy is most closely aligned to Samuel Alito on the Court,[11] the latter of whom has also become associated with libertarian trends in the conservative judicial philosophy.[8]

List of Roberts Court opinions[edit]


  1. ^ Liptak, Adam (2010-07-24). "Court Under Roberts Is Most Conservative in Decades". New York Times. New York, New York. Retrieved 2010-08-05. 
  2. ^ Bell, Benjamin (6 April 2016). "Merrick Garland: Where His Supreme Court Nomination Goes From Here". ABC. Retrieved 7 April 2016. 
  3. ^ Chiusano, Scott (29 September 2015). "Landmark decisions during John Roberts' decade as Chief Justice". New York Daily News. Retrieved 25 February 2016. 
  4. ^ a b Wolf, Richard (29 September 2015). "Chief Justice John Roberts' Supreme Court at 10, defying labels". USA Today. Retrieved 25 February 2016. 
  5. ^ Liptak, Adam (18 May 2015). "Supreme Court Ruling Altered Civil Suits, to Detriment of Individuals". New York Times. Retrieved 3 March 2016. 
  6. ^ Fairfield, Hannah (26 June 2014). "A More Nuanced Breakdown of the Supreme Court". New York Times. Retrieved 25 February 2016. 
  7. ^ Goldstein, Tom (June 30, 2010). "Everything you read about the Supreme Court is wrong (except here, maybe)". SCOTUSblog. Retrieved July 7, 2010. 
  8. ^ a b c
  9. ^ a b Marcia Coyle, The Roberts Court: The Struggle for the Constitution, 2013
  10. ^ a b Scalia, Antonin; Garner, Bryan A. (2008) Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges (St. Paul: Thomson West) ISBN 978-0-314-18471-9.
  11. ^

Further reading[edit]

  • Chemerinsky, Erwin. "Roberts Court at Age Three, The." Wayne L. Rev. 54 (2008): 947.
  • Collins, Ronald KL. "Foreword, Exceptional Freedom—The Roberts Court, the First Amendment, and the New Absolutism." Albany Law Review 76.1 (2013): 409-66. online
  • Franklin, David L. "What kind of business-friendly court? Explaining the Chamber of Commerce's success at the Roberts Court." Santa Clara Law Review 49 (2009). online
  • Gottlieb, Stephen E. Unfit for Democracy: The Roberts Court and the Breakdown of American Politics (New York University Press, 2016. xii, 381 pp
  • Liptak, Adam. "Court under Roberts is most conservative in decades." Sup. Ct. Preview (2012): 48. online
  • Mazie, Steven V. American Justice 2015: The Dramatic Tenth Term of the Roberts Court. (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015).
  • Tushnet, Mark. In the Balance: Law and Politics on the Roberts Court (WW Norton, 2013). Pp. xviii, 324pp