“We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges,” Chief Justice John Roberts declared last fall in response to President Trump’s jab at an “Obama judge.” In spite of my distaste for Trump’s attacks on our judiciary, on this one, the facts are with Trump.
As a former U.S. attorney and state attorney general, I have spent my share of time in the courtroom before state and federal judges whose commitment to neutral principles and fairness made even losing parties respect their decisions. Today, that confidence is undermined by the Roberts Court’s undeniable pattern of political allegiance. Under Roberts, justices appointed by Republican presidents have, with remarkable consistency, delivered rulings that advantage big corporate and special interests that are, in turn, the political lifeblood of the Republican Party. The “Roberts Five” are causing a crisis of credibility that is rippling through the entire judiciary.
Several decisions have been particularly flagrant and notorious: Citizens United v. FEC wrongly held that unlimited special-interest spending couldn’t corrupt, or even appear to corrupt, American politics, unleashing torrents of corruption and public disdain. Shelby County v. Holder wrongly declared racism over, disabling key sections of the Voting Rights Act and prompting a surge of racist state voting legislation. District of Columbia v. Heller elevated as constitutional doctrine a Second Amendment argument once described by a former chief justice as a “fraud.” After a bald invitation from a Republican appointee, right-wing lawyers rushed to lose cases in lower courts so a friendly Supreme Court majority could deliver a blow to the labor movement in Janus v. AFSCME.
Dig a bit, and a pattern emerges far worse than just that handful of bad decisions. Since Roberts ascended to chief justice in 2006, the court’s bare 5-4 majority of Republican appointees has delivered such rulings not three or four times, not even a dozen or two dozen times, but 73 times in civil cases. There are 79 5-4 decisions with no Democratic appointee joining the majority since Roberts became chief justice; and 73 of them implicate issues important to powerful Republican political interests. The score in those 73 cases for the big Republican interests is 73-0. On this Republican judicial romp, the Roberts Five have been cavalier with any doctrine, precedent or congressional finding that gets in their way. [Continue reading…]