— Richard Covert, letter to San Francisco Chronicle
Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts is a master of Jesuitical opinions: deceptive, misleading, subtle, sly and crafty —and specious. He is also skillful at persuading liberal justices to join his opinions. But don’t you be fooled: he is a right-wing partisan.
The result is a reactionary court masked by Roberts’ seeming reasonableness. His opinions are often wrong but few people see it. The former Justice David Souter did. He loathed Roberts for his “disrespect of precedent, his grasping conservatism and his aggressive pursuit of political objectives.”
Nevertheless, Roberts rules the court if he can get swingman Justice Kennedy to join his three other exponents of reaction: Justices Scalia, Thomas and Alito.
In the 2012-2013 term just concluded, the court continued to be good for business. It showered the Chamber of Commerce with victories:
•Cutting back on class-actions suits that are essential for fairness to “the little guy;” making it harder to sue the makers of dangerous drugs; favoring employers in workplace discrimination; limiting suits against corporations for human rights abuses abroad; and allowing companies to avoid class-actions suits through arbitration agreements.
A perfect example of Roberts’ workmanship: his opinion stabbing the heart of the historic Voting Rights Act of 1965. “Voting discrimination still exists,” Roberts wrote. “No one doubts that. The question is whether the act’s extraordinary measures continue to satisfy constitutional requirements.”
They do not, the retrograde court ruled, 5-4. Eight states in the South are free to change election laws without U.S. approval. They are free to keep blacks from the polls with voter ID, raise barriers to early voting and carve out discriminatory voting districts.
Roberts, living in the court’s dream world, says the VRA law is “based on 40-year-old facts having no relationship to the present day.” The reprehensible Justice Scalia is also living in that fantasy world, calling the law during oral argument a “perpetuation of racial entitlement.” In other words, giving blacks something they don’t deserve.
The Roberts decision was also “intellectually dishonest and disingenuous,” as the New York Times pointed out.
Justice Ginsburg cried out in an angry dissent joined by Justices Breyer, Kagan and Sotomayor: “Hubris is a fit word for today’s demolition of VRA. The sad irony of the decision lies in its utter failure to grasp why the VRA has proven effective. The court errs egregiously.”
Ginsburg was absolutely right. But ideology reigns in the Roberts court, not reason.
Roberts and his fellow politicians, Scalia, Thomas, Alito and Kennedy, make the law.
Judges are supposed to be impartial. But whatever wrong ruling they hand down, they always muster arguments for it. Roberts is very good at it — to the detriment of the nation.
This columnist refers to the Supremes as the Roberts court. But perhaps Dennis Myers, news editor of the Reno News & Review, is more perceptive. He refers to them as the Kennedy court.
In any case, Greg Palast of Truthout was so incensed by the VRA ruling that he called it the “Ku Klux Kourt,” figuratively dancing on the grave of Martin Luther King. As cartoonist Garry Trudeau in Doonesbury puts it: “the return of Jimmy Crow” has meant voter suppression.
It’s a subtle form of apartheid 148 years after the Civil War ended.
Jake Highton is an emeritus journalism professor at the University of Nevada, Reno.