John Krull: An attack on the Supreme Court itself | Opinion



When the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, John Roberts, issues a warning, other conservative members of the senior judiciary in the country would be wise to heed.

Roberts, after all, has proven to be a cunning and determined advocate of both the court’s stature and the interests of the Republican Party.

One of his decisions that most angered rabid Conservative supporters – his 2012 assertion of the Affordable Care Act – likely saved the GOP from disaster this election year. Stripping millions of voters of their health care shortly before they vote is not a political success plan, no matter what right-wing fire-eaters might think.

But, more importantly, with his decisive vote, Roberts also reaffirmed the role of the Supreme Court as the ultimate arbiter of constitutional principles. He made it clear that he did not see himself as some sort of upside down John Marshall, a figure who gave up rather than established the court’s position of final authority on fundamental issues.

That’s why Roberts is sounding the alarm now. It comes amid wrangling over a new Texas abortion law that puts the task of restricting constitutionally guaranteed rights – at least for now – to bounty hunters and vigilantes.

Much of the attention paid to these court battles so far has focused on the sharp but relevant dissent from liberal members of the court – particularly that of Judge Sonia Sotomayor.

“Will this institution survive the stench this creates in the public perception that the constitution and its reading are only political acts?” Sotomayor asked during argument on another state law, that of Mississippi, aimed at attacking reproductive rights.

The justice argument is about how people view the court. She argues, convincingly, that an audience that once viewed the Supreme Court as an impartial interpreter of the constitution and enduring notions of liberty and self-governance will soon see the Supreme Judiciary as a mere collection of political hacks seeking partisan gains, however fleeting they may be. the gains can be.

Roberts’ concern, unsurprisingly, is more measured but even more sweeping. He fears the nation’s judges are on the verge of rejecting the court’s status as the final authority on questions of constitutional principle.

He fears his fellow Conservatives will force him into the role he has always rejected – that of being the chief justice who rejected Marshall’s landmark feat in Marbury v. Madison and put the court in a position of relative uselessness.

Therefore, in his dissent in Whole Woman’s Health v. Jackson, Roberts cited a Supreme Court ruling from the early days of the republic.

“If the legislatures of several states can, at will, set aside the judgments of the courts of the United States and destroy the rights acquired under those judgments, the constitution itself becomes a solemn mockery,” Roberts quoted in citing a decision. from 1809.

He then insisted, speaking in his own voice.

“The nature of the federal law violated does not matter; it is the role of the Supreme Court in our constitutional system that is at stake, ”wrote the Chief Justice.

He is right.

If Texas or Mississippi or any other state is allowed to determine what constitutional rights should be allowed, then everything is up for grabs everywhere – and the Supreme Court will be a shadow of itself.

The Blue States will be able to decide that the Heller ruling which established an individual’s right to bear arms under the Second Amendment is truly invalid. Even questions of religious freedom can be called into question.

Concern over how the battle over abortion will affect the American political landscape has likely been overstated. If the court allows Texas or Mississippi law – as it looks set to do – abortions will not go away.

Poor women without much choice will suffer, but rich women will still be able to travel to states where they are legal. The effect will be to harden but not to fundamentally change our ideological and cultural battle lines – to institutionalize our deep national divisions.

The red states will become redder.

The blue states will become bluer.

But reducing the role of the Supreme Court in American life will have lasting and very likely devastating consequences for all of us. Every argument will turn into an endless demolition derby.

John Roberts has reason to be concerned.

John krull is principal of the Pulliam School of Journalism at Franklin College and editor of, a news site powered by journalism students at Franklin College.

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