Volume 19

Heckling the Umpire: John Roberts, Public Scrutiny, and the Court's Legitimacy

by William Spruance

Chief Justice Roberts’ fifteen years at the helm of the Supreme Court have featured significant changes to the political landscape. He has served under four presidents and with twelve different associate justices through a rapidly changing media environment. During his confirmation hearing, Roberts stated, “Judges are like umpires. Umpires don’t make the rules, they apply them. The role of an umpire and a judge is critical. They make sure every-body plays by the rules, but it is a limited role. Nobody ever went to a ball game to see the umpire.” Roberts’ analogy emphasized a reserved role for the judiciary, but politicians and the public do not hesitate to criticize the Supreme Court.

As Chief Justice, Roberts maintains dual objectives: to advance his preferred method of jurisprudence and to mitigate potential damage to the Court’s reputation. I seek to explore to what extent these objectives are aligned and how factors outside the Courtroom might influence Roberts’ decision-making. To do this, I present areas of law in which Roberts’ opinions have been consistent, cases that have served as anomalies to his jurisprudence, and analysis of the public scrutiny surrounding each case and controversy.

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