SIDEBAR Summer 2019 - 9

MONTGOMERYBAR.ORG

BOOK REVIEW:
The Chief: The Life and
Turbulent Times of Chief
Justice John Roberts
by Joan Biskupic

Review By Jules J. Mermelstein, Esq.

J

oan Biskupic's biography of John
Roberts is quite illuminating when
analyzing the decisions he's made as
chief justice.
Born in Buffalo, NY, Roberts was
raised mostly in Long Beach, IN.
Long Beach was known as an exclusive
community, marketed in a brochure
as "America's finest country home
community and playground." Offering
"20 reasons why better people live in
Long Beach," the brochure referred to
the community's glistening blue waters,
safe sandy beaches, fashionable golf
course, and "good moral character" of its
residents.
Roberts attended Notre Dame
Elementary School and for high school,
attended the prestigious La Lumiere
School, a Catholic boarding school in
La Porte, IN. After graduation, Roberts
moved east to attend Harvard University
and Harvard Law School, where he
served as managing editor of the Harvard
Law Review.
Biskupic points to Roberts' Roman
Catholic upbringing as an influence on
his legal views on abortion and same-sex
marriage. As the book points out, "Once
he became a justice, Roberts would vote
to give the states significant leeway to

restrict abortion; he never found that
regulations had gone too far in burdening
a woman's right to end a pregnancy,
including the regulations that led to the
closing of clinics across Texas." When
he dissented in Obergefell he felt the
court had no right to challenge the legal
requirement of man-woman marriage,
asking rhetorically, "Who do we think
we are?"
Biskupic also points out that,
although Roberts joined the movement
sparked by Richard Nixon and Ronald
Reagan to argue that judges should stay
out of the social dilemmas arising in
the country, and leave those decisions
to the elected branches of government,
Roberts has gone far beyond that. In
his 2013 opinion in Shelby County v.
Holder Roberts struck down a part of the
1965 Voting Rights Act, which had been
reauthorized by Congress in 2006 by a
vote of 98-0 in the Senate and 390-33
in the House based on a 16,000 page
record of facts they found. The law was
based on Congress' explicit authority
from Section 2 of the 15th Amendment
to protect the voting rights of blacks.
Biskupic says that did not stop Roberts
from striking it down, substituting his
own legislative judgement with no record

of facts that the only way to get past racial
discrimination is to stop focusing on race.
In discussing the recent history of
the Court, Biskupic points out that the
court has shifted more to the right. It
used to be that Justice O'Connor was
the center of the court, sometimes siding
with the perceived liberals and sometimes
siding with the perceived conservatives.
When she was replaced by Justice Alito,
Justice Kennedy became the center of the
court. When he was replaced by Justice
Kavanaugh, Chief Justice Roberts now
became the center of a very conservative
majority court.
And yet, Biskupic points out, Roberts
does not want to have his court, or
federal judges in general, to be perceived
as partisan. He has publicly answered
President Trump's accusations of some
judges being "Obama judges" by saying
that "We do not have Obama judges or
Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton
judges. What we have is an extraordinary
group of dedicated judges doing their level
best to do equal right to those appearing
before them. That independent judiciary is
something we should all be thankful for."
continued on next page >

SUMMER 2019 9


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