Chief Justice Roberts Plays a Long Game on Supreme Court
But glancing at an end-of term snapshot can be misleading. The more meaningful way to look at the court is as a movie, one starring Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. as a canny strategist with a tough side, and his eyes on the horizon. He is just 58 and is likely to lead the court for another two decades or more.
Chief Justice Roberts has proved adept at persuading the court’s more liberal justices to join compromise opinions, allowing him to cite their concessions years later as the basis for closely divided and deeply polarizing conservative victories.
His patient and methodical approach has allowed him to establish a robustly conservative record while ranking second only to Justice Anthony Kennedy as the justice most frequently in the majority.
“This court takes the long view,” said Kannon K. Shanmugam, a lawyer with Williams & Connolly in Washington. “It proceeds in incremental steps.”
On Tuesday, when the court struck down a part of the Voting Rights Act, Chief Justice Roberts harvested seeds he had planted four years before. In his 2009 opinion, writing for eight justices, he allowed the Voting Rights Act to stand. But the price he exacted from the court’s liberal wing was language quoted in Tuesday’s decision that seems likely to ensure the demise of the law’s centerpiece, Section 5, which requires federal oversight of states with a history of discrimination.