Why Judges Cannot Avoid Political Controversy
When John Roberts addressed the Senate at his confirmation hearings, he declared that judges, including Supreme Court justices, are like umpires. “Umpires don't make the rules; they apply them,” Roberts testified. “I come before the committee with no agenda. I have no platform. Judges are not politicians,” he assured the senators. If seated on the Court, Roberts promised, “I will remember that it's my job to call balls and strikes and not to pitch or bat.”1
Roberts has proven to be an odd sort of umpire. In contested cases during his first term as chief justice, Roberts consistently voted with the Court's conservatives and against its liberals. In cases settled by a divided vote, Roberts agreed with the Court's best-known conservative, Antonin Scalia, 77.5 percent of the time, and he voted with John Paul Stevens, commonly regarded as the Court's most liberal member, only 35 percent of the time.2 Though Roberts told the Senate that he had no “agenda” or “platform,” and that his job was only to “call balls and strikes,” his umpiring turned out to have a decidedly conservative slant.