Case study The conservative agenda of the Roberts Court

Is the Robert's Court ideologically conservative or judicially conservative?

John Roberts, appointed by George W. Bush in 2005, currently serves as the Chief Justice. In addition to having the same powers as the associate justices, the Chief Justice chairs the Court and determines which justice will author opinions in cases where they are in the majority. This role allows the Chief Justice to shape the Court's decisions. Furthermore, they oversee the presidential inauguration's oath of office and lead presidential impeachment trials in the Senate. John Roberts presided over Donald Trump's impeachment trial in 2020.

There have been  a number of 5-4 cases that have angered liberals. In DC v Heller 2008 the court departed from judicial precedent, stating for the first time in its history that the 2nd amendment gave individuals (as opposed to those joining militias as a form of protection of state power) the right to bear arms. This overturned gun laws favoured by liberals, in which handguns were banned from homes. The Court's conservative credentials were further established in Citizens United v FEC 2010 and McCutcheon v FEC 2014. These cases overturned Congressional restrictions on the use of money in US elections, making it easier for the wealthy to donate unlimited dollars. One of the most controversial rulings was Shelby v Holder in 2013, which undid some of the major aspects of the civil-rights movement by critically undermining the Voting Rights Act. This means that states cannot be checked by the federal government to ensure that their voting practices are not discriminatory. According to the NAACP, this ruling has led to an explosion of restrictive practices in the 2016 elections.

Conservatives have been disappointed and in some cases angry at some of the most important decisions made by the court. In NFIB v Sebelius the court was given an opportunity to review Obama's Affordable Care Act with only four of the conservative justices arguing that it restricts state power, breaking the interstate commerce clause. Chief Justice Roberts, interpreted  the act as constitutionally acceptable because the health care provision was a form of tax, which Congress had the right to impose. The four liberals also ruled in favour of the Act but for different reasons, meaning the court upheld Obama's flagship policy. This show how Roberts was both avoiding a difficult political issue i.e. he aims to be an umpire not a player. . In Obergefell v Hodges 2015 the court issued a landmark liberal ruling by stating that gay rights were protected by the 14th amendment.

In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court said federal law, which prohibits discrimination based on sex, should be understood to include sexual orientation and gender identity. It was the first decision on LGBT rights since the 2018 retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Republican appointee who became an unlikely advocate of gay rights on the court and wrote majority opinions in all four of its major gay rights decisions. Bostock v Clayton County

In 2020 the court refused to hear objections to the election brought by Trump's legal team- again disappointing the conservatives.

The appointments of Brett Kavanagh and Amy Coney Barrett to replace Anthony Kennedy and Ruth Bader Ginsberg appear to have given the court a conservative 6 to 3 majority. This is the culmination of a project begun by Ronald Reagan and continued under subsequent Republican presidents- George Bush, George W Bush and Donald Trump. It had long been the hope and expectation of many conservatives that a conservative majority would see a court which would reverse the liberal decisions of the Warren and Berger Courts.

January 2021 In an early indication of the influence of justice Barrett The US supreme court  reinstated a requirement that women visit a hospital or clinic to obtain a drug used for medication-induced abortions, lifting an order by a lower court allowing the drug to be posted or delivered during the coronavirus pandemic. The supreme court chief justice, John Roberts, said the dispute was not generally about the right to abortion but rather courts’ deference to government decisions related to the pandemic. 

A shift towards more conservative rulings by the Court was evident in cases such as Rucho v Common Cause (2019) and Lamone v Benisek (2019), where the Court determined that partisan gerrymandering did not violate the Constitution. The decision, with a 5-4 vote split along ideological lines, showcased the conservative justices in the majority, while the liberal justices dissented.

Case study gerrymandering 

Conservatives and liberals have differing reactions to the distinction between Conservative judges and conservative politicians. While politicians are driven by ideology and personal beliefs, judges are expected to follow the law and precedent. Conservative justices typically support Judicial Restraint, believing that judges should not interfere in political matters. For instance, Justice Scalia opposed liberal decisions like Roe v Wade not on ideological grounds, but because he thought such issues should be left to elected officials rather than the judiciary.

Many legal decisions prioritize technical interpretation over politics. The Supreme Court often issues unanimous rulings, indicating that justices' political inclinations may be less important than their legal expertise. Even in closely contested cases, the distinction between liberal and conservative justices is not always clear. In the period from 2018 to 2019, fewer than half of the 5-4 rulings had all five conservative justices in agreement, and each conservative justice sided with liberals in some instances. During the 2019–20 session, Chief Justice John Roberts frequently acted as a pivotal voter, aligning with liberal justices on significant cases concerning abortion and transgender rights. Despite having a 5-4 conservative majority, the Court also ruled against President Trump, including rejecting his bid to terminate the DACA program in 2020.

A test of the Supreme Court neutrality and its role in upholding  the Constitution 2024 : The Supreme Court and Donald Trump


Donald Trump was wrongly removed from Colorado’s primary ballot last year, the US Supreme Court has ruled, clearing the way for Trump to appear on the ballot in all 50 states.

The court’s unanimous decision overturns a 4-3 ruling from the Colorado Supreme Court that said the former president could not run because he had engaged in insurrection during the January 6 attack on the US Capitol. The Colorado decision was a novel interpretation of section 3 of the 14th Amendment, which bars insurrectionists from holding office.

Thomas Keck, a professor of political science at Syracuse University, told Al Jazeera that the Colorado case had long faced an uphill battle.

“It was definitely always a long shot and the ruling is not surprising,” Keck explained. But, he added, the US Supreme Court’s ruling opened up larger questions about what guardrails exist to protect US democracy.

“It has been three years [since January 6], and Trump has faced almost zero consequences. That is a bad sign for the health of the country’s democratic institutions,” Keck said.

Trump and Presidential Immunity

Supreme Court to rule if Trump can run for president 

The U.S. Supreme Court has set April 25 2024 as the date it will hear Donald Trump's claim of presidential immunity from prosecution on charges related to his efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss - the last day of oral arguments of its current term. 

Although it has been widely assumed that any president, after they leave office, has some kind of legal immunity from criminal charges based on actions he takes as president, the Supreme Court has never actually decided this question.

When the DC Court of Appeals was beginning its inquiry into the issue, Donald Trump’s lawyer told the court that a sitting president was entitled to immunity even if he directed Seal Team Six to shoot one of his political adversaries.

Trump's Impact on the Court

Despite serving only one term in office, Donald Trump was able to appoint three Justices to the Supreme Court, giving it a six-member conservative majority.  

Still Judicial

The Court didn’t dismantle the Affordable Care Act, it didn’t shut down the DACA program, and it didn’t overturn the major religious precedent in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia. Fulton v. Philadelphia could have created a wide-ranging right to discriminate. But the narrow grounds on which the decision was based means that LGBTQ people are still protected under anti-discrimination law.  

Allen v Milligan — that saw Justices John Roberts and Brett Kavanaugh side with their liberal colleagues to knock down racially gerrymandered voting districts in Alabama. Justice Amy Coney Barrett has also shown a willingness to break ideological lines.  In United States v. Texas, eight justices held that Texas and Louisiana lacked standing to challenge the Biden administration’s immigration enforcement priorities. The Supreme Court rejected a state-led challenge to a Biden deportation policy, marking a big win for the administration. The court ruled 8-1 that Texas and Louisiana lacked standing to bring the case, in which they tried to force the administration to more aggressively arrest and deport undocumented immigrants. 

April 2023 Shadow Docket ruling that preserved nationwide access to birth control drug mifepristone. The justices on March 26 heard arguments in a case involving possible restrictions in access to the abortion pill. The justices signaled they were unlikely to limit access, appearing skeptical that the anti-abortion groups and doctors challenging the drug, called mifepristone, have the needed legal standing to bring the case. The Biden administration has appealed a lower court's ruling in favor of the plaintiffs that would limit how the medication is prescribed and distributed. A ruling is expected by the end of June 2024. 

More Conservative 

Abortion June 2022 2023 -The Supreme Court ruled there is no constitutional right to abortion in the United States, upending the landmark Roe v Wade case from nearly 50 years ago in a rare reversal of long-settled law that will fracture reproductive rights in America. Joe Biden called the ruling a “tragic error” and  “wrong, extreme, and out of touch”.

Another ruling 2023  upended the federal government’s ability to restrict greenhouse gases. Sackett v. EPA — a major decision in which the court dramatically curtailed the federal government’s ability to prevent pollution of wetlands.  


The Court deals a final blow to affirmative action In education. In a case, brought against the University of North Carolina, the court concluded that considering race in the public university admissions process violates the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. That constitutional provision bars states from denying “the equal protection of the laws.”  In the other affirmative action case, brought against Harvard College, the court ruled that considering race in the private college admissions process violates Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. That federal law prohibits private entities, like colleges, that receive federal government funds from discriminating on the basis of race. Similar to its reasoning in the UNC case, in the Harvard case, the court concluded that race-conscious admissions policies constitute racial discrimination.  Affirmative Action 

The Court allows racially gerrymandered maps to be used in the next presidential election. The justices on Oct. 11 2024  heard arguments over the legality of a Republican-drawn electoral map in South Carolina that was blocked by a lower court for racial bias after 30,000 Black residents were moved out of a U.S. House of Representatives district. The conservative justices signaled sympathy toward arguments made by Republican South Carolina officials. The lower court in 2023 found that the map violated constitutional provisions that guarantee equal protection under the law and bar racial voting discrimination. But on March 28 it decided that the map could be used in this year's elections because the Supreme Court's ruling had not yet been issued and the election calendar was fast approaching. A ruling by the Supreme Court is expected by the end of June. Gerrymandering 

The Court is less likely to hear death penalty appeals.Since the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her replacement with Amy Coney Barrett in 2020, the Court has stopped an execution only twice and reversed a lower court to permit an execution nine times. In 2023, 26 condemned prisoners asked the Court to hear their cases; 25 were rejected