Roberts Court

The Roberts Court is the time since 2005 during which the Supreme Court of the United States has been led by Chief Justice John Roberts. It is generally considered more conservative than the preceding Rehnquist Court, as a result of the retirement of moderate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and the subsequent confirmation of the more conservative Justice Samuel Alito in her place.[1]

Supreme Court of the United States
Roberts Court
Since September 29, 2005 –
14 years, 76 days
SeatSupreme Court Building
Washington, D.C.
No. of positions9
Roberts Court decisions


Roberts was originally nominated by President George W. Bush to replace Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who had decided to retire from the Court, effective with the confirmation of her successor. However, before the Senate could act upon Roberts' nomination to be an Associate Justice, Chief Justice William Rehnquist died, and President Bush nominated Roberts for the Chief Justice vacancy. Roberts' nomination as Chief Justice was confirmed by the Senate in 2005. Roberts took the Constitutional oath of office, administered by senior Associate Justice John Paul Stevens (who was the acting Chief Justice during the vacancy) at the White House, on September 29, 2005, almost immediately after his confirmation. On October 3, Roberts took the judicial oath provided for by the Judiciary Act of 1789, prior to the first oral arguments of the 2005 term. The Roberts Court commenced with Roberts as Chief Justice and eight holdovers from the Rehnquist Court: Stevens, O'Connor, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, David Souter, Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Stephen Breyer.

President Bush nominated Samuel Alito (after the withdrawal of Bush's first nominee, White House Counsel Harriet Miers) to replace O'Connor, and he was confirmed in January 2006. In 2009, President Barack Obama nominated Sonia Sotomayor to replace Souter, and in 2010 Obama nominated Elena Kagan to replace Stevens. After six years, Justice Scalia died in February 2016. In the following month Obama nominated Merrick Garland, but Garland's nomination was never considered by the Senate, and it expired when the Senate's 114th Congress ended and the 115th Congress began on January 3, 2017. Eleven days after the 2017 Inauguration, on January 31, 2017, President Donald Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch to replace Scalia. Democrats in the Senate filibustered the Gorsuch nomination, which led to the Republicans exercising the "nuclear option". After that, Gorsuch was confirmed in April 2017. Justice Kennedy retired on July 31, 2018.[2] On July 9, 2018, Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh to replace Kennedy, and he was confirmed on October 6, 2018.


Note: The blue vertical line denotes "now" (December 2019).

Bar key:        Ford appointee         Reagan appointee         G. H. W. Bush appointee         Clinton appointee         G. W. Bush appointee         Obama appointee         Trump appointee

Rulings of the Court

In its first ten years, the Roberts court has issued major rulings on gun control, affirmative action, campaign finance regulation, abortion, capital punishment, gay rights, unlawful search and seizure, and criminal sentencing. Major decisions of the Roberts Court include:[3][4]

Judicial philosophy

The Roberts Court has been described as "conservative in most cases, liberal in some," with (prior to the death of Justice Scalia) five conservative-leaning justices and four liberal-leaning justices. Alito, Thomas, Kennedy, Roberts, and Scalia generally have taken more conservative positions, while Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan have generally taken more liberal positions. Souter and Stevens had also been part of the liberal bloc prior to their respective retirements. These two blocs of voters have lined up together in several major cases, though Justice Kennedy has often sided with the liberal bloc. Roberts has also served as a swing vote, often advocating for narrow rulings and compromise among the two blocs of Justices.[4][7] Though the Court often does divide along ideological lines, attorney and SCOTUSblog founder Tom Goldstein has noted that many cases are decided 9-0 and that the individual judges hold a wide array of views.[8]

The judicial philosophy of Roberts on the Supreme Court has been assessed by leading court commentators including Jeffrey Rosen[9] and Marcia Coyle.[10] Although Roberts is identified as having a conservative judicial philosophy, his vote in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius (2012) upholding the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) has caused reflection in the press concerning the comparative standing of his conservative judicial philosophy compared to other sitting justices of conservative orientation; he is seen as having a more moderate conservative orientation, particularly when his vote to uphold the ACA is compared to Rehnquist's vote in Bush v. Gore.[11]

Regarding Roberts' contemporaneous peers on the bench, his judicial philosophy is seen as more moderate and conciliatory than that of Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.[9][11] Unlike Scalia, Roberts has not indicated any particularly enhanced reading of originalism or framer's intentions as has been plainly evident in Scalia's speeches and writings.[10] Roberts' strongest inclination on the Court has been to attempt to re-establish the centrist orientation of the Court as being party neutral, in contrast to his predecessor Rehnquist who had devoted significant effort to promote a states rights orientation for the Court. Roberts' voting pattern reflecting his conservative judicial philosophy is most closely aligned to Samuel Alito on the Court,[12] the latter of whom has also become associated with libertarian trends in the conservative judicial philosophy.[9]

List of Roberts Court opinions


  1. Liptak, Adam (2010-07-24). "Court Under Roberts Is Most Conservative in Decades". New York Times. New York, New York. Retrieved 2010-08-05.
  2. "Trump gets chance to reshape top court". BBC News. 2018-06-27. Retrieved 2018-06-27.
  3. Chiusano, Scott (September 29, 2015). "Landmark decisions during John Roberts' decade as Chief Justice". New York Daily News. Retrieved February 25, 2016.
  4. Wolf, Richard (September 29, 2015). "Chief Justice John Roberts' Supreme Court at 10, defying labels". USA Today. Retrieved February 25, 2016.
  5. Liptak, Adam (May 18, 2015). "Supreme Court Ruling Altered Civil Suits, to Detriment of Individuals". New York Times. Retrieved March 3, 2016.
  6. "One Really Good Thing in the Supreme Court's Travel-Ban Ruling: Korematsu Is Gone".
  7. Fairfield, Hannah (June 26, 2014). "A More Nuanced Breakdown of the Supreme Court". New York Times. Retrieved February 25, 2016.
  8. Goldstein, Tom (June 30, 2010). "Everything you read about the Supreme Court is wrong (except here, maybe)". SCOTUSblog. Retrieved July 7, 2010.
  9. Rosen, Jeffrey (July 13, 2012). "Big Chief".
  10. Marcia Coyle, The Roberts Court: The Struggle for the Constitution, 2013.
  11. Scalia, Antonin; Garner, Bryan A. (2008) Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges (St. Paul: Thomson West) ISBN 978-0-314-18471-9.
  12. "Which Supreme Court Justices Vote Together Most and Least Often". The New York Times. June 24, 2014.

Further reading

  • Chemerinsky, Erwin. "Roberts Court at Age Three, The." Wayne L. Rev. 54 (2008): 947.
  • Collins, Ronald KL. "Foreword, Exceptional Freedom—The Roberts Court, the First Amendment, and the New Absolutism." Albany Law Review 76.1 (2013): 409-66. online
  • Franklin, David L. "What kind of business-friendly court? Explaining the Chamber of Commerce's success at the Roberts Court." Santa Clara Law Review 49 (2009). online
  • Gottlieb, Stephen E. Unfit for Democracy: The Roberts Court and the Breakdown of American Politics (New York University Press, 2016. xii, 381 pp
  • Liptak, Adam. "Court under Roberts is most conservative in decades." Sup. Ct. Preview (2012): 48. online
  • Mazie, Steven V. American Justice 2015: The Dramatic Tenth Term of the Roberts Court. (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015).
  • Tushnet, Mark. In the Balance: Law and Politics on the Roberts Court (WW Norton, 2013). Pp. xviii, 324pp
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