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Now that the Senate will begin confirmation hearings of deeply conservative D.C. Circuit Court judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, some liberals have turned to Justice John Roberts as the possible new centrist or “swing vote” on the court. Although Roberts is generally a reliably conservative voice, commentators point to a gentle leftward drift and a few key votes as examples of his moderation, such as his majority opinion upholding Obamacare.

“Procedural Weeds”

Justice Roberts, the argument goes, might have genuine conservative priors. But he is also deeply committed to protecting the institution of the Supreme Court itself and insulating it from the charge that it has just become a third political branch of the federal government. For anyone worried about the future of abortion access, LGBT rights, affirmative action, or pushback against the executive excesses of the Trump presidency, this isn’t a bad strategy. Roberts seems, at worst, committed to a strategy of incremental change rather than abrupt action, like a vote to completely overturn Roe v. Wade. The more hopeful among us offer soothing reassurances that Roberts’ long-term interest in the institution of the Supreme Court will be a powerful moderating influence, both in the votes he casts and in the opinions he writes.

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