Roberts can reclaim conservative bona fides

Court to review laws on voting, affirmative action

WASHINGTON — Chief Justice John Roberts, whose majority opinion upheld President Obama’s health care law, won’t have to wait long for a chance to reassert his conservative credentials.

In the nine-month term that starts in October, the Supreme Court will consider rolling back university affirmative action and may take up same-sex marriage and the Voting Rights Act, the 1965 law that protects minorities at the polling place.

On the race issues in particular, Roberts is a good bet to rejoin the wing of the court that has been his ideological home since he became chief justice in 2005. He has taken a leading role on such questions, pushing for a color-blind Constitution.


‘‘With respect to race, I don’t think Chief Justice Roberts will have the same hesitation to advance a conservative agenda,’’ said Kermit Roosevelt, a constitutional law professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School in Philadelphia.

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Opponents of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act criticized Roberts for joining with the court’s four Democratic appointees to uphold the health care law. Roberts, 57, was accused of ‘‘arrogance’’ by columnist Michael Gerson and ‘‘judicial betrayal’’ by economist Thomas Sowell. The Wall Street Journal said in an editorial that he ‘‘behaved like a politician.’’

The criticism escalated after CBS News, citing two unnamed people, said Roberts originally voted to strike down the part of the law that requires Americans to get insurance — an idea once championed by the Heritage Foundation and leading Republicans — then switched sides during the court’s internal deliberations.

That led to speculation among some Republicans that the chief justice had sought to first protect the court from charges of flagrant partisanship instead of deciding on the constitutionality of the law, which is intended to expand coverage to at least 30 million uninsured Americans.

Some commentators praised Roberts for parts of his opinion that may limit Congress’s power in the future.


Even so, the ruling has left some legal conservatives questioning Roberts’s reliability on other issues. The decision came three days after he joined a 5-3 majority to strike down most of an Arizona law designed to crack down on illegal immigrants.