Chief Justice John Roberts: Another Litmus Test

The Supreme Court and Chief Justice Roberts have a mixed reputation on its rulings of late. After promising gradualism, in his confirmation hearings, Chief Justice Roberts promised respect for precedent and a gradualist approach. But in the Fall of last year, the Chief Justice was instrumental in broadening the scope of the Citizens United case and then arguing for a decision on Campaign Financing that overturned major precedent rulings. The result is that undeclared campaign financing has trippled in this election cycle. Estimates are the current midterm elections will see campaign spending 3 times larger than in 2006.The result is that US  is becoming wracked in divisive partisanship.

One key consequence of that visceral partisanship is that federal judicial appointments are being logjammed by Senate Republicans. NYTimes Linda Greenhouse describes the situation:

The Judicial Conference of the United States, the policy-making arm of the federal courts, which the chief justice heads, has identified 49 of the current 105 vacancies as “judicial emergencies.” This is a nonpolitical designation, based on a formula that takes into account the judicial workload on a particular court and the length of time the position has gone unfilled. The number of “emergencies” has doubled since the start of the Obama administration

So the Chief Justice has an opportunity to do what his predecessor and mentor, Chief Justice Rehnquist did when the same situation arose in 1997. Then Chief Justice Rehnquist spoke out against the stalled legal appointments of that era. The occasion is the Chief Justice’s annual report on the state of the federal judiciary. Yes, it is another benchmark  of whether this Chief Justice is going to support precedent and speak out against  the divisive  partisanship that is creeping into US Federal governance. In short, is Chief Justice Roberts going to a part of the partisan problem or part of the solution?

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