Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts said Sept. 9 that the court should focus on its role of interpreting the U.S. Constitution when mentioning how some critics have questioned the court’s legitimacy after recent decisions.
“If the court doesn’t retain its legitimate function of interpreting the constitution, I’m not sure who would take up that mantle,” Roberts said while being interviewed by two judges from the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at its conference in Colorado Springs.
“You don’t want the political branches telling you what the law is, and you don’t want public opinion to be the guide about what the appropriate decision is,” the George W. Bush appointee added.
Roberts described the last year as an unusual and difficult one, pointing to the public not being allowed inside the court, closed in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic, as one hardship. He also said it was “gut wrenching” to drive into the Supreme Court that was surrounded by barricades every day.
Officials installed the barricades in May after protests were sparked by the release of a draft opinion indicating the court was poised to strike down Roe v. Wade, a 1973 decision that saw the court conclude access to abortion was a constitutional right. Justices also saw protesters gather outside their homes, and one man traveled with firearms to the home of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, a Trump appointee with the intent to kill him, according to confessions police say the man made.
The barricades are now gone and the public will be allowed back inside when the court’s new session begins in October, according to Roberts.
He did not mention the leak of the draft opinion, penned by Justice Samuel Alito, a George W. Bush appointee. Alito later wrote a final opinion that struck down Roe v. Wade.
Roberts sided with the other five Republican-appointed justices in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, but said he preferred “a more measured course” that would discard the aspect of Roe’s ruling that women must be able to get an abortion before a fetus is viable but would have left other parts intact.
Roberts had called the leak a “betrayal” in May and ordered an investigation into the source of the leak. The court has provided virtually no official updates since then.
Justice Neil Gorsuch, speaking at the same conference a day earlier, said that a report on the investigation is coming.
“The chief justice appointed an internal committee to oversee the investigation,” Gorsuch said. “That committee has been busy and we’re looking forward to their report, I hope soon.”
Gorsuch, a Trump appointee, also said it is “terribly important” to identify who leaked the draft opinion.