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Supreme Court of the United States
Roberts Court
→ Current
Official roberts CJ.jpg
Since September 29, 2005 –
17 years, 19 days
SeatSupreme Court Building
Washington, D.C.
No. of positions9
Roberts Court decisions
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg

The Roberts Court is the time since 2005 during which the Supreme Court of the United States has been led by John Roberts as Chief Justice. It is generally considered to be more conservative than the preceding Rehnquist Court and the most conservative court since the Vinson Court of the 1940s and early 1950s. This is due to the retirement of moderate Justices Sandra Day O'Connor and Anthony Kennedy, the death of liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and the confirmation of conservative Justices Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett in their places, respectively.[1]

Since Barrett's confirmation, the Court has been generally regarded as having six conservative justices and three liberal justices. The conservative bloc is sometimes further split into a center-right wing reluctant to overrule precedent (Roberts, Kavanaugh, and Barrett), and a strict conservative wing generally willing to overrule precedent (Clarence Thomas, Alito, and Neil Gorsuch).[2][3][4]


Roberts was originally nominated by President George W. Bush as associate justice to succeed Sandra Day O'Connor, who had announced her retirement, effective with the confirmation of her successor. However, before the Senate could act upon the nomination, Chief Justice William Rehnquist died. President Bush quickly withdrew the initial nomination and resubmitted it as a nomination for Chief Justice; this second Roberts nomination was confirmed by the Senate on September 29, 2005, by a 78–22 vote. Roberts took the constitutional oath of office, administered by senior Associate Justice John Paul Stevens (who was the acting Chief Justice during the vacancy) at the White House on the same day as his confirmation. On October 3, Roberts took the judicial oath provided for by the Judiciary Act of 1789, prior to the first oral arguments of the 2005 term. The Roberts Court commenced with Roberts as Chief Justice and the final eight Associate Justices from the Rehnquist Court: Stevens, O'Connor, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, David Souter, Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Stephen Breyer.

President Bush's second nominee to replace O'Connor, Harriet Miers, withdrew before a vote; Bush's third nominee to replace O'Connor was Samuel Alito, who was confirmed in January 2006. In 2009, President Barack Obama nominated Sonia Sotomayor to replace Souter; she was confirmed. In 2010, Obama nominated Elena Kagan to replace Stevens; she, too, was confirmed. In February 2016, Justice Scalia died; in the following month, Obama nominated Merrick Garland, but Garland's nomination was never considered by the Senate, and it expired when the 114th Congress ended and the 115th Congress began on January 3, 2017. On January 31, 2017, President Donald Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch to replace Scalia. Democrats in the Senate filibustered the Gorsuch nomination, which led to the Republicans exercising the "nuclear option". After that, Gorsuch was confirmed in April 2017. In 2018, Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh to replace Kennedy;[5] he was confirmed. In September 2020, Justice Ginsburg died; Trump nominated Amy Coney Barrett to succeed Ginsburg and she was confirmed on October 26, 2020, days before the 2020 election.[6] In 2022, Breyer announced his retirement effective at the end of the Supreme Court term, assuming his successor was confirmed, in a letter to President Joe Biden.[7] Biden nominated Ketanji Brown Jackson to succeed Breyer,[8] and she was confirmed by the Senate.[9] Breyer remained on the Supreme Court until it went into its summer recess on June 30, at which point Jackson was sworn in,[10] becoming the first black woman and the first former federal public defender to serve on the Supreme Court.[11][12]


Note: The blue vertical line denotes "now" (October 2022).

Bar key:
  Ford appointee   Reagan appointee   G. H. W. Bush appointee   Clinton appointee   G. W. Bush appointee   Obama appointee   Trump appointee   Biden appointee

Other branches

Presidents during this court have included George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Donald Trump, and Joe Biden. Congresses included the 109th through the current 117th United States Congresses.

Rulings of the Court

The Roberts Court (since June 2022): Front row (left to right): Sonia Sotomayor, Clarence Thomas, Chief Justice John Roberts, Samuel Alito, and Elena Kagan. Back row (left to right): Amy Coney Barrett, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Ketanji Brown Jackson.
The Roberts Court (since June 2022): Front row (left to right): Sonia Sotomayor, Clarence Thomas, Chief Justice John Roberts, Samuel Alito, and Elena Kagan. Back row (left to right): Amy Coney Barrett, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Ketanji Brown Jackson.

The Roberts court has issued major rulings on incorporation of the Bill of Rights, gun control, affirmative action, campaign finance regulation, abortion, capital punishment, gay rights, unlawful search and seizure, and criminal sentencing. Major decisions of the Roberts Court include:[13][14]

Judicial philosophy

See also: Ideological leanings of U.S. Supreme Court justices

The Roberts Court has been described as "conservative in most cases, liberal in some", with (prior to the death of Justice Scalia) five conservative-leaning justices and four liberal-leaning justices. Alito, Thomas, Kennedy, Roberts, and Scalia generally have taken more conservative positions, while Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan have generally taken more liberal positions. Souter and Stevens had also been part of the liberal bloc prior to their respective retirements. These two blocs of voters have lined up together in several major cases, though Justice Kennedy had often sided with the liberal bloc. Roberts has also served as a swing vote, often advocating for narrow rulings and compromise among the two blocs of Justices.[14][17] Though the Court sometimes does divide along partisan lines, attorney and SCOTUSblog founder Tom Goldstein has noted that more cases are decided 9–0 and that the individual justices hold a wide array of views.[18]

The judicial philosophy of Roberts on the Supreme Court has been assessed by leading court commentators including Jeffrey Rosen[19] and Marcia Coyle.[20] Although Roberts is identified as having a conservative judicial philosophy, his vote in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius (2012) upholding the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) has caused reflection in the press concerning the comparative standing of his conservative judicial philosophy compared to other sitting justices of conservative orientation; he is seen as having a more moderate conservative orientation, particularly when his vote to uphold the ACA is compared to Rehnquist's vote in Bush v. Gore.[21]

Regarding Roberts' contemporaneous peers on the bench, his judicial philosophy is seen as more moderate and conciliatory than that of Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.[19][21] Roberts has not indicated any particularly enhanced reading of originalism or framer's intentions as has been plainly evident in Scalia's speeches and writings.[20] Roberts' strongest inclination on the Court has been to attempt to re-establish the centrist orientation of the Court as being party neutral, in contrast to his predecessor Rehnquist who had devoted significant effort to promote a states rights orientation for the Court. Roberts' voting pattern reflecting his conservative judicial philosophy is most closely aligned to Samuel Alito on the Court,[22] the latter of whom has also become associated with libertarian trends in the conservative judicial philosophy.[19]

After Ginsburg was replaced by Barrett, several commentators wrote that Roberts was no longer the leading justice. As the five other conservative justices could outvote the rest, he supposedly could no longer preside over a moderately conservative course while respecting precedent.[23][24] Some said this view was confirmed by the court's 2022 ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, which overturned the landmark rulings Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey of 1973 and 1992, respectively.[25][26]


In a July 2022 research paper entitled "The Supreme Court's Role in the Degradation of U.S. Democracy," the Campaign Legal Center, founded by Republican Trevor Potter, asserted that the Roberts Court "has turned on our democracy" and was on an "anti-democratic crusade" that had "accelerated and become increasingly extreme with the arrival" of Trump's three appointees.[27][28]

List of Roberts Court opinions

Main article: List of United States Supreme Court cases by the Roberts Court


  1. ^ Liptak, Adam (2010-07-24). "Court Under Roberts Is Most Conservative in Decades". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-08-05.
  2. ^ Johnson, John (18 June 2021). "Supreme Court's Interesting New Math: 3-3-3". Newser.
  3. ^ "America's Supreme Court is less one-sided than liberals feared". The Economist.
  4. ^ Blackman, Josh. "We don't have a 6–3 Conservative Court. We have a 3-3-3 Court". Reason.
  5. ^ "Trump gets chance to reshape top court". BBC News. June 27, 2018. Retrieved June 27, 2018.
  6. ^ Vazquez, Maegan; Liptak, Kevin (September 26, 2020). "Trump nominates Amy Coney Barrett as Supreme Court justice". CNN. Retrieved October 2, 2020.
  7. ^ Shear, Michael D. (2022-01-27). "Biden plans to name Breyer's successor by the end of February". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2022-06-24.
  8. ^ Macaya, Melissa; Wagner, Meg; Sangal, Aditi; Vogt, Adrienne; Kurtz, Jason (2022-02-25). "Feb. 25 coverage of Biden's SCOTUS nomination Ketanji Brown". CNN. Retrieved 2022-06-24.
  9. ^ Wagner, John; Alfaro, Mariana (2022-04-07). "Post Politics Now: Biden gets history-making nominee Jackson on the Supreme Court". Washington Post. Retrieved 2022-06-24.
  10. ^ CNN, By Maureen Chowdhury, Adrienne Vogtm, Aditi Sangal, Elise Hammond and Melissa Macaya (2022-06-30). "Live updates: Ketanji Brown Jackson to be sworn in as Supreme Court Justice as court issues final opinions". CNN. Retrieved 2022-06-30.
  11. ^ Maureen Chowdhury; Ji Min Lee; Meg Wagner; Melissa Macaya (2022-04-07). "Jackson won't be sworn in until Justice Stephen Breyer retires". CNN. Retrieved 2022-06-24.
  12. ^ Booker, Brakkton. "What Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson means for the country". POLITICO. Retrieved 2022-06-24.
  13. ^ Chiusano, Scott (September 29, 2015). "Landmark decisions during John Roberts' decade as Chief Justice". New York Daily News. Retrieved February 25, 2016.
  14. ^ a b Wolf, Richard (September 29, 2015). "Chief Justice John Roberts' Supreme Court at 10, defying labels". USA Today. Retrieved February 25, 2016.
  15. ^ Liptak, Adam (May 18, 2015). "Supreme Court Ruling Altered Civil Suits, to Detriment of Individuals". The New York Times. Retrieved March 3, 2016.
  16. ^ "One Really Good Thing in the Supreme Court's Travel-Ban Ruling: Korematsu Is Gone". The New Yorker. 26 June 2018.
  17. ^ Fairfield, Hannah (June 26, 2014). "A More Nuanced Breakdown of the Supreme Court". The New York Times. Retrieved February 25, 2016.
  18. ^ Goldstein, Tom (June 30, 2010). "Everything you read about the Supreme Court is wrong (except here, maybe)". SCOTUSblog. Retrieved July 7, 2010.
  19. ^ a b c Rosen, Jeffrey (July 13, 2012). "Big Chief". The New Republic.
  20. ^ a b Marcia Coyle, The Roberts Court: The Struggle for the Constitution, 2013.
  21. ^ a b Scalia, Antonin; Garner, Bryan A. (2008) Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges (St. Paul: Thomson West) ISBN 978-0-314-18471-9.
  22. ^ "Which Supreme Court Justices Vote Together Most and Least Often". The New York Times. June 24, 2014.
  23. ^ Kirchgaessner, Stephanie (October 11, 2021). "John Roberts is no longer the leader of his own court. Who, then, controls it?". The Guardian. Archived from the original on June 28, 2022.
  24. ^ Huq, Aziz (September 15, 2021). "The Roberts Court is Dying. Here's What Comes Next". Politico. Archived from the original on July 24, 2022.
  25. ^ Liptak, Adam (June 24, 2022). "June 24, 2022: The Day Chief Justice Roberts Lost His Court". New York Times. Archived from the original on July 14, 2022.
  26. ^ Biskupic, Joan (June 26, 2022). "Chief Justice John Roberts lost the Supreme Court and the defining case of his generation". CNN. Archived from the original on July 19, 2022.
  27. ^ Tokaji, Dan (July 13, 2022). "CLC on "The Supreme Court's Role in the Degradation of U.S. Democracy"". Election Law Blog.
  28. ^ "The Supreme Court's Role in the Degradation of U.S. Democracy" (PDF). Campaign Legal Center. July 13, 2022. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court’s relationship to democracy has shifted dramatically in recent years. Under the leadership of Chief Justice John Roberts, the Supreme Court has spent the last two decades systematically dismantling federal voting rights protections and campaign finance laws while enabling states to restrict the franchise and distort electoral outcomes with remarkable zeal. The pace of this upheaval has accelerated since 2017 with the additions of Justices Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett. And in its first term, the Roberts Court’s new supermajority has demonstrated a ready willingness to overturn precedent and discard long recognized constitutional rights, so we can expect changes in democracy law to be as extreme as they are quick to come.

Further reading

  • Boyer, Cynthia. "The Supreme Court and Politics in the Trump Era." Elon L. Rev. 12 (2020): 215. online
  • Chemerinsky, Erwin. "Roberts Court at Age Three, The." Wayne L. Rev. 54 (2008): 947.
  • Collins, Ronald KL. "Foreword, Exceptional Freedom—The Roberts Court, the First Amendment, and the New Absolutism." Albany Law Review 76.1 (2013): 409–66. online
  • Cross, Frank B., and James W. Pennebaker. "The language of the Roberts court." Michigan State St. L. Rev. (2014): 853. online[dead link]
  • Eidelson, Benjamin. "Reasoned Explanation and Political Accountability in the Roberts Court." Yale LJ 130 (2020): 1748. online
  • Franklin, David L. "What kind of business-friendly court? Explaining the Chamber of Commerce's success at the Roberts Court." Santa Clara Law Review 49 (2009). online
  • Gottlieb, Stephen E. Unfit for Democracy: The Roberts Court and the Breakdown of American Politics (New York University Press, 2016. xii, 381 pp
  • Halbrook, Stephen P. "Taking Heller Seriously: Where Has the Roberts Court Been, and Where Is It Headed, on the Second Amendment." Charleston L. Rev. 13 (2018): 175. online
  • Liptak, Adam. "Court under Roberts is most conservative in decades." Sup. Ct. Preview (2012): 48. online
  • Mayeux, Sara. "Youth and Punishment at the Roberts Court." U. Pa. J. Const. L. 21 (2018): 543. online
  • Mazie, Steven V. American Justice 2015: The Dramatic Tenth Term of the Roberts Court. (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015).
  • Metzger, Gillian E. "The Roberts Court and Administrative Law." The Supreme Court Review 2019.1 (2020): 1–71. online
  • Tribe, Laurence, and Joshua Matz. Uncertain Justice: The Roberts Court and the Constitution (Henry Holt, 2014).
  • Tushnet, Mark. In the Balance: Law and Politics on the Roberts Court (WW Norton, 2013). 324pp
  • Waltman, Jerold. Church and State in the Roberts Court: Christian Conservatism and Social Change in Ten Cases, 2005–2018 (McFarland, 2019).