Chief Justice John Roberts is not a conservative despite the label most put on him. He generally leans to the right, but he’s not a constitutional originalist like Antonin Scalia or Clarence Thomas. In Roberts’ mind, as well as just about any centrist judge’s mind, that makes him better suited than those on the far right or left to preside over cases.
This is why his statement today about an independent judiciary is so important.
Roberts said Wednesday the U.S. doesn’t have “Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges.” He commented in a statement released by the Supreme Court after a query by The Associated Press.
Roberts said on the day before Thanksgiving that an “independent judiciary is something we should all be thankful for.”
Does that mean Roberts is blind to the bias and abuse of power perpetrated by judges on both sides of the political aisle? No. What everyone seems to be seeing as a rebuke was a statement of the ideal prompted by the Associated Press in their attempt to get a rebuke. They were fishing, not expecting to get a response. When they got one, they saw it through their blue-filtered eyes as a rebuke against the President. In reality, it was a statement intended for a different audience: the judges themselves.
I don’t care for the legal loopholes the Chief Justice often uses in his decisions. He gives far too much credit to precedent when he should be viewing past rulings through a constitutional lens. He also leans away from overturning decisions if they’re not blatantly incorrect. With that said, his statement will be misconstrued by pretty much everyone.
He is correct in asserting the judiciary should be independent. Judgments must be made based on the law, not any perceived loyalty to a president who helped them climb the judicial ladder. And since he’s not blind to judicial overreach or political bias affecting decisions, we have to conclude his “rebuke” was a reminder to the judiciary itself rather than an attack on President Trump.
That’s not to say he didn’t intend the message for Trump, but it was less of a rebuke and more of a gentle nudge telling the President his labeling of judges doesn’t help. In a way, he’s right, but here’s the thing. An “Obama judge” will generally lean to the left. A “Trump judge” will generally lean to the right. Prior to Obama, judicial appointments weren’t as polarized as they are now. President Reagan appointed many leftist judges and President Clinton appointed many conservative judges.
Stacking isn’t a new phenomenon, but Presidents Obama and Trump have taken it to a whole other level. This is the new normal. It’s hard to imagine a president in the near future going back to the “leaning” days before Obama when a president’s appointments would be 60-40 or 70-30 in favor of their political ideology. Back then, even that was considered stacking. Starting with President Obama and continuing with President Trump, the stacking is more like 95-5.
Roberts wants the judiciary to “do equal right to those appearing before them” and he wants the President and everyone else to stop labeling judges by the President who appointed them. Neither is possible. His hopes will never be realized.
The left desperately wants to paint this as a rebuke against the President because that’s what they do. Roberts was stating the ideal. Unfortunately, groups like the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals make his idealism moot.