Chief Justice John Roberts has made common cause with the Supreme Court’s liberal bloc as late, breaking with his conservative colleagues on cases relating to abortion, the death penalty and President Donald Trump’s revised rules for asylum seekers.
Whether Roberts’s recent maneuvers reflect a substantive change in his approach to cases remains to be seen. In isolation, it’s difficult to know what to make of the chief’s votes.
That he is parting with his conservative legal views seems unlikely. This, after all, is a jurist who voted to uphold the federal Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act and strike down limits on firearms possession, corporate campaign expenditures and all manner of race-conscious benefits. Yet his recent moves are all the more interesting for that very reason.
Roberts has twice sided with the liberal justices on abortion-related cases. …
… As he parted ways with his conservative brethren twice on abortion petitions, so too has Roberts joined the liberal bloc in a pair of death penalty decisions this term. …
… So what is Roberts up to?
One theory holds the chief is steering the Court away from trouble after the brutish national shriek-out that was the Kavanaugh confirmation. Having lingered too long in the cross-currents of raw emotion, Roberts may see approach-avoidance as the order of the day.