During his Senate confirmation hearings in 2005, Chief Justice John Roberts memorably compared himself to a baseball umpire. As a jurist, he said, his job is simply “to call balls and strikes,” not to determine the outcome of a case based on his personal preferences.
In the more than decade since, the conservative justices on the U.S. Supreme Court have often purported to engage in this vision of judicial restraint, seeking to cast themselves as people guided above all by their reluctance to second-guess lower courts as fact-finders, Congress as the Court’s co-equal branch in government, or the “sovereignty” of states.
But the effects of many of the conservative wing’s rulings have been anything but neutral, especially where the civil rights of our country’s most vulnerable individuals are concerned. Several recent cases expose the inconsistency—one might even say the hypocrisy—with which the Roberts Court applies its self-professed commitment to judicial modesty. Where established law protects civil rights, the Roberts Court has been more than willing to make sweeping interventions to roll back vital democratic protections. Now that Justice Brett Kavanaugh has been confirmed, this trend will almost certainly become more pronounced in the years to come.
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