Chief Justice John Roberts Defends the Supreme Court — As People’s Confidence Wavers

Chief Justice John Roberts has defended the Supreme Court’s ability to interpret the Constitution, arguing that it should not be questioned because individuals disagree with its decisions.

In his first public appearance since leaving the United States, he was asked about his experiences over the past year on the court. On Friday, when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, John Roberts expressed his worry that some critics of the court’s controversial rulings have begun to challenge the legitimacy of the court. He named neither the individual cases nor the critics.

Chief Justice John Roberts Defends the Supreme Court

“If the court doesn’t retain its legitimate function of interpreting the constitution, I’m not sure who would take up that mantle. You don’t want the political branches telling you what the law is, and you don’t want public opinion to be the guide about what the appropriate decision is,” Roberts said while being interviewed by two judges from the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at its conference in Colorado Springs.

Roberts characterized the last year as unusual and challenging, citing the court’s closure in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic as an example. He added that driving up to the barricaded Supreme Court building was an everyday “gut-wrenching” experience.

The barriers went up in May after protests broke out outside the court and some homes of Supreme Court justices following the unprecedented leak of a draft opinion indicating the justices were planning to overturn Roe v. Wade, which provided women with constitutional protections for abortion for nearly 50 years. With the start of the new court session in October, the barriers will be removed, and the public will be let back inside, but Roberts’s inquiry into the leak will continue.

supreme court chief justice john roberts
supreme court chief justice john roberts

Justice Neil Gorsuch, who spoke at the same Thursday briefing, emphasized the “terribly important” need to find the leaker and said he hoped to receive an update on the probe “soon.”

Gorsuch and the other justices who have spoken out criticized the leak.

“Improper efforts to influence judicial decision-making, from whatever side, from whomever, are a threat to the judicial decision-making process,” Gorsuch said

In June, Justice Samuel Alito delivered a majority decision in a case upholding Mississippi’s legislation barring abortion after 15 weeks, and he relied heavily on the leaked draft. The majority judgment overturned Roe v. Wade. The decision allowed for harsh abortion regulations or prohibitions in about half of the states in the United States.

Roberts, who was appointed to the court in 2005 by former President George W. Bush, voted to uphold the Mississippi law in June’s ruling but did not join the conservative justices in overturning Roe v. Wade or Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the 1992 decision that reaffirmed the right to terminate a pregnancy. He indicated that he would take “a more cautious route” and not overturn the sweeping precedents to protect the state statute.

Roberts has been outspoken on the need for judicial independence and has sought to dispel the notion that the Supreme Court is merely another branch of government like the House or the Senate.

However, public trust in the court and approval ratings have plummeted since the revelation of the final abortion ruling.

When asked to explain the court’s inner workings to the general public, Chief Justice John G. Roberts highlighted the collegiality among the judges and the custom of shaking hands before beginning conferences or taking the bench. Following a case in which the judges may have differing opinions, he added, they all eat together in the court’s dining room and discuss anything but work. He argued that mutual respect is not the result of “false affection” but rather the give-and-take of presenting and receiving opposing viewpoints.

“We have a common calling, and we act like it,” he said.

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