Speculation surrounds Chief Justice Roberts amid challenges to Texas abortion law

Since Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts was appointed in 2005 by then-President George W. Bush, critics have frequently complained that he is not as conservative as they initially believed.

Such concerns have resurfaced recently as the nation’s highest court considers legal challenges against a new anti-abortion law in Texas.

Roberts sides with liberal justices

Oral arguments began on Monday regarding two separate challenges — one filed by abortion providers and the other coming from the Biden administration.

Court watchers are said to be paying close attention to how Roberts will ultimately vote on the issue.

How the chief justice will rule is the subject of debate in part because he sided with progressive colleagues last month in a failed bid by critics to block the Texas law from going into effect.

In that 5-4 decision, Roberts issued a dissent in which he questioned the law’s “unusual” and “unprecedented” manner of enforcement, which empowers private citizens to file civil suits against doctors and other individuals who help facilitate abortions conducted after a fetal heartbeat is detected.

He noted that he would have issued an injunction to block the law in order to allow for a full briefing on the merits of the case in lower courts.

Uncertainty surrounding his position

Reports published prior to oral arguments this week indicated that Roberts’ prior dissent on the issue would make his a particularly impactful vote in the upcoming case.

While he has signaled disapproval of abortion rights in the past, he has also sided with liberals on related matters and has appeared to be more focused on upholding prior precedent than handing down decisions in line with conservative social ideologies.

As a SCOTUSblog analysis revealed, Roberts has expressed skepticism regarding the constitutionality of the Texas law as well as criticism of the arguments being presented by attorneys for abortion providers and the federal government.

For that reason, few insiders — if any — know for sure how he will rule on the matter. A decision is expected at some point next year.

Of course, there will be plenty of speculation before that time with his own comments and questions during oral arguments being used to gauge his sentiment on the merits of the complaints. As for his history of disappointing social conservatives, many Americans expressed dismay in 2012 when he voted to uphold the Affordable Care Act and, more recently, when he declined to strike down pandemic-related restrictions.

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