The obituaries are already being written. Steamrolled by five other conservatives, Chief Justice John Roberts was unable to shape the Supreme Court’s decision to let Texas flagrantly ignore the court’s abortion precedent. This is the end of the Roberts Court, we’re told, as the Chief Justice’s cautious approach to judging gives way to a more robustly conservative activism.
But obituaries can be premature: P.T. Barnum’s, for example, appeared in the New York Evening Sun some two weeks before he died. Like Barnum, the chief justice’s influence is ebbing, but it isn’t moribund. How long it will last, however, may not be within his control. Rather, it depends on how aggressively state and national Republicans try to press their political advantage — especially at election time.
And while the chief justice hasn’t fully lost his hold on the court, what comes next is quickly coming into view. The post-Roberts Court is likely to be unfettered by legalistic norms and eager to advance changes to the law that both embed conservative policy goals and tilt the election system toward the GOP. It’s a combination that poses a real threat to American democracy.
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