Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts has fully embraced his new role as being the swing-vote on the court.
With conservatives holding a 5-4 majority on the high court, Roberts has been flip-flopping a lot lately and siding with liberals on a slew of defining cases — making him incredibly unpredictable.
The latest instance of this came days ago when the court rejected an emergency appeal by a California church that challenged state limits on attendance at religious services.
In a 5-4 vote, Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the four liberal justices to keep the state’s limits of 25 percent capacity or 100 people in place, The Hill reported.
The South Bay United Pentecostal Church in Chula Vista, California, in the San Diego area wanted to allow 200 to 300 people to attend each service.
The church argued that limits on attendees violate constitutional religious freedom guarantees. They were asking for an emergency ruling in time for services on Sunday.
In a brief opinion, Roberts said that the limits “appear consistent” with the First Amendment and are similar to limits placed on secular businesses, like movie theaters and shopping malls.
Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who was appointed by President Donald Trump, slammed Roberts’ argument.
Kavanaugh pointed out that churches are in a different category from secular businesses, and said that the limits violate the First Amendment.
Kavanaugh also noted that many secular businesses in the state were not subject to such limits, writing:
The basic constitutional problem is that comparable secular businesses are not subject to a 25% occupancy cap, including factories, offices, supermarkets, restaurants, retail stores, pharmacies, shopping malls, pet grooming shops, bookstores, florists, hair salons, and cannabis dispensaries.
A report from Fox News provides more details on his history of siding with liberals:
Perhaps the most notorious of Roberts’ votes was when he sided with liberal justices in a 5-4 decision, authoring the court’s opinion that upheld the Affordable Care Act in 2012. It was Roberts who wrote that the individual mandate was legal because having a monetary penalty attached allowed it to fall under Congress’ taxation power.
More recently, Roberts authored a 5-4 decision last year where he led conservative justices in a controversial ruling where the court said it was not their role to get involved in partisan gerrymandering claims.
It’s becoming obvious that Roberts is very unpredictable.
According to statistics compiled by SCOTUSBlog, the court’s October 2018 term featured 17 cases that resulted in 5-4 decisions where all four liberal justices voted together.
Of these, Roberts turned out to be a deciding vote in 10 of them, sticking with his fellow conservatives seven times and voting with liberal justices three times. As it turns out, Justice Neil Gorsuch – who is often viewed as more traditionally conservative – sided with the liberal contingent in four 5-4 decisions.
However, Roberts has sided with conservatives on several big times cases.
This week, the nation’s highest court delivered a 9-0 ruling to uphold appointments to Puerto Rico’s federally created financial oversight board.
The SCOTUS delivered a 5-4 ruling last month permitting a “public charge” rule that allows the Trump administration to screen out green card applicants. The rule makes it more difficult for immigrants to receive legal status should they be expected to become dependent on government benefits.
The court recently ruled 5-4 that the Trump administration can enforce the “remain in Mexico” policy.
Before that, the High Court ruled 5-4 in favor of tossing a lawsuit filed against a Texas border agent for shooting and killing a Mexican teenager.