Politics Explained

The role of ‘political influence’ in a big year for the US Supreme Court

Chief justice John Roberts has made his stance very clear as the court considers some important issues, writes Chris Stevenson

Monday 03 January 2022 21:30
<p>Chief justice John Roberts </p>

Chief justice John Roberts

Something you may have missed over new year was the chief justice of the US Supreme Court, John Roberts, talking about the annual report on the federal judiciary. When I put it like that, I don’t blame you – but there are some interesting tidbits to consider as we enter an important year for the court.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg is said to have once remarked: “It’s hard not to have a big year at the Supreme Court” – an observation I would like to believe is true because of its wonderfully crafted obviousness. But the court will return on 7 January to hear arguments in challenges to the decision by Joe Biden’s administration to try to control the spread of Covid-19 by imposing vaccines or mask-wearing, along with testing requirements, for large employers and healthcare workers. After that, decisions will have to be made about abortion rights (and perhaps the future of the landmark Roe v Wade judgment), and another case touching on the expansion of gun rights.

Justice Roberts – a conservative – has been at pains to point out the importance of the court being shielded from what he has labelled “inappropriate political influence”. It would be easy to think that this is just a holdover from the aggressive presidency of Donald Trump – but we must also consider the study commissioned by Biden to explore court reform, including calls from some in the Democratic Party to potentially add more members to the bench and impose term limits. While Justice Roberts did not mention the study specifically, his stance is clear.

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