by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Chief Justice John Roberts has become an issue in the 2020 presidential campaign as conservatives question whether they can rely on Republicans to appoint and confirm judges who will not frustrate and rule against them.
In each of the handful of decisions from the last Supreme Court term that disappointed conservatives, Roberts, who was nominated by President George W. Bush, sided with the liberal bloc. Roberts has now been increasingly disavowed by the party that put him on the nation’s highest court.
Vice President Mike Pence called Roberts a “disappointment to conservatives” last week in an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network. Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, went even further, saying in a tweet, “John Roberts has abandoned his oath.” Sen. Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican, asked, “What happened to that judge?”
Pence specifically mentioned “the Obamacare decision” and a “spate of recent decisions all the way through Calvary Chapel.” In several recent rulings on LGBT rights, abortion, immigration, and religious liberty, Roberts cast the pivotal vote that allowed the Democratic appointees on the court to prevail.
President Trump has cited his judicial nominations as a primary reason evangelicals and other social conservatives should support his reelection bid. He won 81% of white evangelical voters four years ago. Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee, authored one of the opinions that rankled conservatives, but he and Brett Kavanaugh have usually voted against the liberal bloc.
“We remember the issue back in 2016, which I believe loomed large in voters’ decisions between Hillary Clinton and the man who would become president of the United States,” Pence said. “And some people thought that it wouldn’t be as big an issue these days. But I think that’s all changed.”