Supreme Court of the United States
Roberts Court
→ Current
September 29, 2005 –
18 years, 115 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 is widely 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 is considered to have 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 has been considered 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" (January 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 included 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 article: Supreme Court of the United States § Criticism and controversies

Since 2023, criticism of the Court by Democrats has risen, with the Court being increasingly viewed as illegitimate.[35][36][37] The Court's legitimacy has also been questioned by its own justices,[38][39][40] as well as the general public.[41]

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.[42][43]

Public opinion

The Roberts Court is considered to be the most unpopular Court since Gallup started tracking public approval of the Supreme Court in 1973.[2] Public perception of the Court was at a net negative before the overturning of Roe v. Wade in 2022, and dropped further following the ruling.[44][45] 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.[46]

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. ^ a b Staff (June 26, 2022). "A historically unpopular Supreme Court made a historically unpopular decision". CBS News. 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. (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.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ 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.((cite web)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ Booker, Brakkton. "What Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson means for the country". POLITICO. Retrieved 2022-06-24.
  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. 26 June 2018.
  15. ^ "The Chief Stands Alone: Roberts, Roe and a Divided Supreme Court". Retrieved 2023-03-01.
  16. ^ Godfrey, Elaine (2023-06-28). "The Court Is Conservative—But Not MAGA". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2023-07-29.
  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 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. ^ Hasen, Richard L. (2014-04-02). "Die Another Day". Slate. ISSN 1091-2339. Retrieved 2023-03-01.
  23. ^ "Five Four Pod | Shelby County v. Holder". 05:38. Retrieved 2023-03-01.
  24. ^ Bravin, Jess (2023-07-07). "John Roberts and Brett Kavanaugh Are Now the Supreme Court's Swing Votes". Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved 2023-07-29.
  25. ^ Schonfeld, Zach (2023-07-08). "How John Roberts exhibited his power in the Supreme Court's biggest decisions". The Hill. Retrieved 2023-07-29.
  26. ^ Feldman, Dr Adam (2023-06-30). "Another One Bites the Dust: End of 2022/2023 Supreme Court Term Statistics". Retrieved 2023-07-29.
  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 (18 June 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.
  33. ^ Blackman, Josh. "We don't have a 6–3 Conservative Court. We have a 3-3-3 Court". Reason.
  34. ^ Emerson, Blake (2022-06-30). "The Real Target of the Supreme Court's EPA Decision". Slate. ISSN 1091-2339. Retrieved 2023-03-01.
  35. ^ "Supreme Court Criticism". The New York Times. 2023-05-22. Retrieved 2023-07-05.
  36. ^ Smith, David (2023-05-21). "Democrats fight to expand a 'broken and illegitimate' supreme court". The Guardian. Retrieved 2023-07-05.
  37. ^ Marcotte, Amanda (2023-07-03). "Fraud justice: Decision based on a fake case showcases the Supreme Court's illegitimacy". Salon. Retrieved 2023-07-05.
  38. ^ Gresko, Jessica (2022-10-26). "Supreme Court justices spar over court legitimacy comments". AP News. Retrieved 2023-11-23.
  39. ^ "Justices join debate on Supreme Court's legitimacy after abortion ruling". NBC News. 2022-09-18. Retrieved 2023-11-23.
  40. ^ Kanu, Hassan (2023-07-10). "Even some justices are raising questions about the U.S. Supreme Court's legitimacy". Reuters. Retrieved 2023-11-23.
  41. ^ Greenhouse, Steven (2023-10-05). "The US supreme court is facing a crisis of legitimacy". the Guardian. Retrieved 2023-11-23.
  42. ^ Tokaji, Dan (July 13, 2022). "CLC on "The Supreme Court's Role in the Degradation of U.S. Democracy"". Election Law Blog.
  43. ^ "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.
  44. ^ Jeffrey M. Jones (2022-06-23). "Confidence in U.S. Supreme Court Sinks to Historic Low". Gallup. Retrieved 2023-04-27.
  45. ^ Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Ben Kamisar, Bridget Bowman and Alexandra Marquez (2022-08-22). "Public's opinion of Supreme Court plummets after abortion decision". NBC News. Retrieved 2023-04-27.((cite web)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  46. ^ Sam Levine (2022-04-24). "Majority of Americans oppose bans of medication abortion drugs, poll finds". The Guardian. Retrieved 2023-05-08.

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 Archived 2021-11-09 at the Wayback Machine
  • 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 Archived 2015-09-20 at the Wayback Machine
  • 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).