Supreme Court of the United States
Roberts Court
→ Current
September 29, 2005 –
18 years, 277 days
SeatSupreme Court Building
Washington, D.C.
No. of positions9
Roberts Court decisions

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. Roberts succeeded William Rehnquist as Chief Justice after Rehnquist's death.

It has been considered to be the most conservative court since the Vinson Court (1946–1953). This is due to the retirement of the relatively moderate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and the confirmation of the more conservative Justice Samuel Alito.[1] The ideological balance of the court shifted further to the right in the following years through the replacement of swing-vote Anthony Kennedy with Brett Kavanaugh in 2018 and the replacement of liberal Ruth Bader Ginsburg with Amy Coney Barrett in 2020.

Since the appointment of Barrett, the Roberts Court is the most unpopular Court since polling started by Gallup in 1973.[2]


Roberts was originally nominated by President George W. Bush as an 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 after his confirmation the same day. 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;[3] 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.[4]

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.[5] Biden nominated Ketanji Brown Jackson to succeed Breyer,[6] and she was confirmed by the Senate.[7] Breyer remained on the Court until it went into its summer recess on June 30, at which point Jackson was sworn in,[8] becoming the first black woman and the first former federal public defender to serve on the Supreme Court.[9][10]


Note: The blue vertical line denotes "now" (July 2024).

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 been George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Donald Trump, and Joe Biden. Congresses included the 109th through the current 118th United States Congresses.

Rulings of the Court

The Roberts Court (since June 30, 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, election law, abortion, capital punishment, LGBT rights, unlawful search and seizure, and criminal sentencing. Major decisions of the Roberts Court include:[11][12]

Judicial philosophy

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

The Roberts Court has been described as conservative and by many as "dominated by an ambitious conservative wing."[15][16] 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 occasionally 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.[12][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] Some commentators have also noted that Roberts uses his vote in high-profile cases to achieve a facially-neutral result that sets up for larger conservative rulings in the future.[22] The Five Four Podcast went so far as to deem this maneuver the "Roberts Two-Step."[23]

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 aesthetics 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 is most closely aligned with Brett Kavanaugh's.[24][25][26]

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.[27][28] 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.[29][30] The conservative bloc is sometimes further split into a wing more hesitant to overrule precedent (Roberts, Kavanaugh, and Barrett), and a wing more willing to overrule precedent (Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch).[31][32][33] Roberts wrote the majority opinion in West Virginia v. EPA which officially established the major questions doctrine and restricted the ability of the EPA to regulate power plant emissions using generation shifting under the Clean Air Act (United States). That opinion drew ire from critics who argued that Roberts and the conservative bloc manufactured a doctrine to thwart climate reforms.[34]


Main articles: Ethics in the Roberts Court and Supreme Court of the United States § Criticism and controversies

Since 2023, criticism of the Court by Democrats has risen, who have increasingly viewed the Court as being illegitimate.[35][36][37] The Court's legitimacy has also been questioned by its liberal bloc of justices,[38][39][40] as well as the general public.[41] Aaron Regunberg in The New Republic criticized the Supreme Court for playing Calvinball, a game with no rules except for those made up as they go.[42]

Democratic backsliding

Main article: Democratic backsliding in the United States

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.[43]Cite error: A <ref> tag is missing the closing </ref> (see the help page).[44] An NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll indicated that allegations of Clarence Thomas having broken the Court's code of conduct repeatedly eroded trust in the Court further, with public confidence dropping from 59% in 2018 to 37% in 2023.[45] A 2024 survey by Marquette Law School found the court to have a 40% approval rating.[46]

List of Roberts Court opinions

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



  1. ^ Liptak, Adam (July 24, 2010). "Court Under Roberts Is Most Conservative in Decades". The New York Times. Retrieved August 5, 2010.
  2. ^ "A historically unpopular Supreme Court made a historically unpopular decision". CBS News. June 26, 2022. Retrieved April 25, 2023. Quinnipiac isn't the only pollster to show a major degradation in the court's standing. The percentage of Americans (25%) who have great or quite a lot of confidence in the court is at the lowest level ever recorded by Gallup since 1973.
  3. ^ "Trump gets chance to reshape top court". BBC News. June 27, 2018. Retrieved June 27, 2018.
  4. ^ Vazquez, Maegan; Liptak, Kevin (September 26, 2020). "Trump nominates Amy Coney Barrett as Supreme Court justice". CNN. Retrieved October 2, 2020.
  5. ^ Shear, Michael D. (January 27, 2022). "Biden plans to name Breyer's successor by the end of February". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved June 24, 2022.
  6. ^ Macaya, Melissa; Wagner, Meg; Sangal, Aditi; Vogt, Adrienne; Kurtz, Jason (February 25, 2022). "Feb. 25 coverage of Biden's SCOTUS nomination Ketanji Brown". CNN. Retrieved June 24, 2022.
  7. ^ Wagner, John; Alfaro, Mariana (April 7, 2022). "Post Politics Now: Biden gets history-making nominee Jackson on the Supreme Court". Washington Post. Retrieved June 24, 2022.
  8. ^ Chowdhury, Maureen; Vogtm, Adrienne; Sangal, Aditi; Hammond, Elise; Macaya, Melissa (June 30, 2022). "Live updates: Ketanji Brown Jackson to be sworn in as Supreme Court Justice as court issues final opinions". CNN. Retrieved June 30, 2022.
  9. ^ Maureen Chowdhury; Ji Min Lee; Meg Wagner; Melissa Macaya (April 7, 2022). "Jackson won't be sworn in until Justice Stephen Breyer retires". CNN. Retrieved June 24, 2022.
  10. ^ Booker, Brakkton. "What Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson means for the country". POLITICO. Retrieved June 24, 2022.
  11. ^ Chiusano, Scott (September 29, 2015). "Landmark decisions during John Roberts' decade as Chief Justice". New York Daily News. Retrieved February 25, 2016.
  12. ^ a b Wolf, Richard (September 29, 2015). "Chief Justice John Roberts' Supreme Court at 10, defying labels". USA Today. Retrieved February 25, 2016.
  13. ^ Liptak, Adam (May 18, 2015). "Supreme Court Ruling Altered Civil Suits, to Detriment of Individuals". The New York Times. Retrieved March 3, 2016.
  14. ^ "One Really Good Thing in the Supreme Court's Travel-Ban Ruling: Korematsu Is Gone". The New Yorker. June 26, 2018.
  15. ^ "The Chief Stands Alone: Roberts, Roe and a Divided Supreme Court". Retrieved March 1, 2023.
  16. ^ Godfrey, Elaine (June 28, 2023). "The Court Is Conservative—But Not MAGA". The Atlantic. Retrieved July 29, 2023.
  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 Rosen, Jeffrey (July 13, 2012). "Big Chief". The New Republic.
  20. ^ a b Coyle, Marcia (2013). The Roberts Court: The Struggle for the Constitution.
  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. ^ Hasen, Richard L. (April 2, 2014). "Die Another Day". Slate. ISSN 1091-2339. Retrieved March 1, 2023.
  23. ^ "Shelby County v. Holder". Five Four Pod (Podcast). Retrieved March 1, 2023.
  24. ^ Bravin, Jess (July 7, 2023). "John Roberts and Brett Kavanaugh Are Now the Supreme Court's Swing Votes". Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved July 29, 2023.
  25. ^ Schonfeld, Zach (July 8, 2023). "How John Roberts exhibited his power in the Supreme Court's biggest decisions". The Hill. Retrieved July 29, 2023.
  26. ^ Feldman, Adam (June 30, 2023). "Another One Bites the Dust: End of 2022/2023 Supreme Court Term Statistics". Retrieved July 29, 2023.
  27. ^ 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.
  28. ^ Huq, Aziz (September 15, 2021). "The Roberts Court is Dying. Here's What Comes Next". Politico. Archived from the original on July 24, 2022.
  29. ^ 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.
  30. ^ 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.
  31. ^ Johnson, John (June 18, 2021). "Supreme Court's Interesting New Math: 3-3-3". Newser.
  32. ^ "America's Supreme Court is less one-sided than liberals feared". The Economist. June 24, 2021.
  33. ^ Blackman, Josh (June 18, 2021). "We don't have a 6–3 Conservative Court. We have a 3-3-3 Court". Reason.
  34. ^ Emerson, Blake (June 30, 2022). "The Real Target of the Supreme Court's EPA Decision". Slate. ISSN 1091-2339. Retrieved March 1, 2023.
  35. ^ Leonhardt, David (May 22, 2023). "Supreme Court Criticism". The New York Times. Retrieved July 5, 2023.
  36. ^ Smith, David (May 21, 2023). "Democrats fight to expand a 'broken and illegitimate' supreme court". The Guardian. Retrieved July 5, 2023.
  37. ^ Marcotte, Amanda (July 3, 2023). "Fraud justice: Decision based on a fake case showcases the Supreme Court's illegitimacy". Salon. Retrieved July 5, 2023.
  38. ^ Gresko, Jessica (October 26, 2022). "Supreme Court justices spar over court legitimacy comments". AP News. Retrieved November 23, 2023.
  39. ^ "Justices join debate on Supreme Court's legitimacy after abortion ruling". NBC News. September 18, 2022. Retrieved November 23, 2023.
  40. ^ Kanu, Hassan (July 10, 2023). "Even some justices are raising questions about the U.S. Supreme Court's legitimacy". Reuters. Retrieved November 23, 2023.
  41. ^ Greenhouse, Steven (October 5, 2023). "The US supreme court is facing a crisis of legitimacy". the Guardian. Retrieved November 23, 2023.
  42. ^ Regunberg, Aaron (July 12, 2022). "How the Calvinball Supreme Court Upended the Bar Exam". The New Republic. Retrieved July 1, 2024.
  43. ^ Tokaji, Dan (July 13, 2022). "CLC on "The Supreme Court's Role in the Degradation of U.S. Democracy"". Election Law Blog.
  44. ^ Todd, Chuck; Murray, Mark; Kamisar, Ben; Bowman, Bridget; Marquez, Alexandra (August 22, 2022). "Public's opinion of Supreme Court plummets after abortion decision". NBC News. Retrieved April 27, 2023.
  45. ^ Sam Levine (April 24, 2022). "Majority of Americans oppose bans of medication abortion drugs, poll finds". The Guardian. Retrieved May 8, 2023.
  46. ^ Franklin, Charles (February 20, 2024). "New Marquette Law School national survey finds approval of U.S. Supreme Court at 40%, public split on removal of Trump from ballot". Retrieved April 29, 2024.

Further reading