Supreme Court: the conservative John Roberts, savior of Obama’s law

By Chantal Vellery (roughly translated)


In a supreme irony, the conservative president of the highest court of the United States, John Roberts, on Thursday became the savior of the reform of health insurance hated by Republicans, preventing blow to his court the charge of bias.


Looking on with wise and blue eyes, John Roberts, 57, with an approach deemed prudent, played a role “in bringing its capital and determining voice in writing the decision that saves a crucial achievement of the administration” Obama said at the AFP Tom Goldstein, an expert of long standing of the Supreme Court. Considered by many the most brilliant lawyer of his generation, John Roberts, whose loyalty to the Republican party has never been in doubt, joined his vote to those of the four progressive judges on the nine-member Court, dissociating from his peers and tilting the conservative majority in favor of a Democratic president’s flagship reform.


The “Chief Justice,” as his position is known, has chosen “the camp of the four most moderate judges and confirmed key aspects” of reform, commented Doug Kendall, president of the Constitutional Accountability Center, to AFP. Appointed head of the High Court by Republican President George W. Bush, John Roberts took office in September 2005, having been celebrated by the religious right. Since then, Mr. Roberts, who had presented “no political agenda,” has maintained conservative positions on major social issues that the Supreme Court helps shape. He distanced himself from positions hostile to abortion rights, but without a clear commitment for or against its continuation. He had, however, validated the Bush military tribunals at Guantanamo, voted for legalizing school prayer and the criminalization of the act of burning the American flag.


“It holds the reputation” of the Court 


With the reform of health insurance, which aims to insure 32 million Americans, is “the integrity of the Supreme Court as an institution as an impartial and non political body” …, said [Constitutional Accountability Center] lawyer Elizabeth Wydra, who supported the Obama administration in this litigation. While observers expected more in the role of the moderate judge Anthony Kennedy, who sometimes votes right, sometimes left, the “Chief Justice promised fidelity to the Constitution,” recalls Ms. Wydra, and that the decision of Mr Roberts was “predictable”. 


It was least expected, however, in this “central moderator” but “as a conservative voice, strong and consistent”, was his appointment Stephen Wermiel, the Supreme Court specialist at the American University in Washington. Considered at the time as one of the most conservative judges in the country, Mr. Roberts graduated from the prestigious Harvard University, has also held legal positions in the Republican government of Ronald Reagan, and worked for Bush.


In a context where three‐quarters of Americans believe that the decisions of the High Court are guided by their political or personal viewpoint, it “shows that it is very dear to the reputation of the Court,” said Clare Huntington, a professor at Fordham Law School, to the AFP, who sees in Thursday’s decision a courageous stand. “John Roberts is trying to avoid the damning critique of history,” said one of his colleagues, Abner Greene.


“By joining his progressive colleagues, he refers the matter back into the arena of democratic politics,” observes Graham Wilson, a political scientist at Boston University. Married for sixteen years and a lawyer known in conservative circles, John Roberts is the father of two young adopted children.