Chief Justice John Roberts

  • June 11, 2013
    Guest Post

    by Sam Kleiner and Dan Sheehan. Kleiner and Sheehan are students at Yale Law School

    In the upcoming fight to confirm judges for the D.C. Circuit, Republicans are going to try to avoid a discussion of the incredible qualifications of the three nominees and instead claim that we don’t need the judgeships at all. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has introduced a Court Efficiency Act which seeks to transfer three of the eleven judgeships out of the D.C. Circuit because, he argues, they just aren’t busy enough. President Obama, in his Rose Garden address, responded that the Judicial Conference of the United States, chaired by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, has supported maintaining the level of judgeships at the D.C. Circuit.

    Grassley’s argument is, at best, disingenuous. The D.C. Circuit plays a crucial role in supervising the administrative state with its unique jurisdictional focus on claims arising from the administrative agencies. Throughout the Obama administration, Republicans have focused on criticizing the growth of the administrative state. In his dissent this term in FCC v Arlington, Justice Roberts argued that “the Framers could hardly have envisioned today’s vast and varied federal bureaucracy and the authority administrative agencies now hold over our economic, social and political activities.” With their critique of the growth of the administrative state, it is disingenuous for conservatives to now flip and say that the appeals court that is tasked with the bulk of administrative law doesn’t have enough work.

    While it is true that the D.C. Circuit hears fewer cases than other appeals courts, as Grassley likes to point out, this argument misses the point entirely. As the Chief Judge of the D.C. Circuit, Roberts delivered a lecture in 2005 entitled “What Makes the D.C. Circuit Different?” His answer: the type of case they hear.“One-third of the D.C. Circuit appeals are from agency decisions. That figureis less than twenty percent nationwide,” he noted. With the legislation creating an array of administrative agencies vesting power for review explicitly in the D.C. Circuit, Roberts noted, “Whatever combination of letters you can put together, it is likely that jurisdiction to review that agency’s decision is vested in the D.C. Circuit.”

    While Grassley complains about the limited workload of the D.C. Circuit, an examination of the statistics from the Judicial Conference confirms that his argument is false.

  • April 17, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    In another victory for corporate interests, the U.S. Supreme Court limited the scope of a 224-year-old law used by human rights groups and lawyers to sue corporations over human rights violations committed overseas.

    The case involved a lawsuit leveled against Royal Dutch Petroleum, which owns Shell Oil, alleging that the company was complicit in the murder and torture of Nigerians opposed to the company’s exploration of the Niger Delta and thereby in violation of the law of nations. The Nigerian government executed many of the activists -- and their families, represented by human rights lawyers, lodged a lawsuit in federal court pursuant to the Alien Tort Statute (ATS). The 1789 federal law states that federal courts can hear “any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.”

    In Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. asked the parties to address, “Whether and under what circumstances the [ATS] allows courts to recognize a cause of action for violations of the law of nations occurring within the territory of a sovereign other than the United States.”

    The question is not, Roberts wrote in the majority opinion, “whether petitioners have stated a proper claim under the ATS, but whether a claim may reach conduct occurring in the territory of a foreign sovereign.”

    Roberts, joined by the high court’s other conservatives, maintained that the ATS “covers actions by aliens for violations of the law of nations, but that does not imply extraterritorial reach – such violations affecting aliens can occur either within or outside the United States.”

    The Court’s conservatives concluded the ATS does not reach extraterritoriality claims, in this case.

    “On these facts, all the relevant conduct took place outside the United States,” Roberts wrote. “And even where the claims touch and concern the territory of the United States, they must do so with sufficient force to displace the presumption against extraterritorial application. Corporations are often present in many countries, and it would reach too far to say that mere corporate presence suffices. If Congress were to determine otherwise, a statute more specific than the ATS would be required.”

    The high court’s left-of-center justices “believed that the statute could still be used in some cases,” Robert Barnes reported for The Washington Post.

    Justice Stephen G. Breyer, Barnes highlighted, wrote that the ATS should reach conduct by corporations overseas that “substantially and adversely affects an important American national interest, and that includes a distinct interest in preventing the United States from becoming a safe harbor (free of civil as well as criminal liability) for a torturer or other common enemy of mankind.”

  • March 7, 2013
    Guest Post

    by Atiba R. Ellis, Associate Professor of Law, West Virginia University College of Law

    In my earlier guest blog on Shelby County, AL v. Holder, I suggested that the conservative justices of the Supreme Court would be tempted to offer a post-racialist narrative concerning the pre-clearance provisions of the Voting Rights Act. 

    The justices did not disappoint. Justice Anthony Kennedy asked whether Alabama should remain “under the trusteeship of the United States government.” Chief Justice John Roberts asked whether “the citizens in the South are more racist than the citizens in the North.” Both of these comments implicitly ask whether the long history of race has been atoned for once and for all.

    And then there was Justice Antonin Scalia’s statement on the Voting Rights Act. In explaining the almost unanimous consensus for the 2006 reauthorization of Section 5, Scalia said:

    Now, I don’t think that’s attributable to the fact that it is so much clearer now that we need this. I think it is attributable, very likely attributable, to a phenomenon that is called perpetuation of racial entitlement. It’s been written about. Whenever a society adopts racial entitlements, it is very difficult to get out of them through the normal political processes.

    On one level, this quote fits the post-racial narrative. Yet Justice Scalia intended a deeper message by invoking the rhetoric of “racial entitlement.” That message is the ahistorical belief that race-conscious analysis is immoral and leads to corrupt outcomes. Establishing this concept is part of a larger post-racial agenda (as we have seen already in the affirmative action debates), and the Voting Rights Act is the latest battleground. Yet, if applied to the right to vote, it will fly in the face of the plain text of the Constitution and our democratic consensus to insure equality in voting.

  • October 8, 2012
    Guest Post

    By Mark Ladov, is counsel for the Justice Program of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law.


    The nation will be paying close attention to the Supreme Court’s review of the University of Texas’s admissions policies when it hears oral argument in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin (UT) on October 10.  Most of the conversation will focus, as it should, on what the Court has to say about race, education and opportunity in the twenty-first century.  But Fisher is also important for what it will teach us about the Roberts Court’s faith in the rule of law and the principle of stare decisis (or the binding effect of past precedent).

    UT’s admissions program considers the race of its applicants, but only alongside a variety of factors (including class, family history, work experience and individual talents) that shape a student’s identity and potential.  As Joshua Civin explained well in this blog, the alternative so-called “race-neutral” approach would actually demean students’ individuality, by forcing them to censor references to race and culture out of their college applications.  

    It is well established that UT’s admissions policies are good for our multi-racial democracy, and wholly consistent with the Constitution’s equal protection clause.  That is not just the opinion of over 70 amici briefs siding with the university.  It is also the view of the Supreme Court, which addressed these exact issues less than a decade ago in Grutter v. Bollinger

    In Grutter, the Court upheld the University of Michigan Law School’s similarly holistic admissions policy.  Justice O’Connor’s opinion enthusiastically affirmed principles first announced by Justice Powell in Regents of Univ. of Cal. v. Bakke(1978).  She explained the importance of diversity for giving all students the best education possible, and for training a diverse set of leaders for America’s future.  

    UT has followed these instructions to the letter.  The Fifth Circuit found exactly that when upholding the constitutionality of its admissions program.  As my colleague Sidney Rosdeitcher points out, in a thorough review of the facts and law of this case, “it would be an assault on the principles underlying stare decisis” for the Supreme Court to reach beyond the issues raised in this case to overturn or limit Grutter.

  • September 14, 2012
    Guest Post

    By Kent Greenfield, Professor and Law Fund Research Scholar, Boston College Law School. Follow Professor Greenfield @kentgreenfield1. This post is part of an ACSblog Constitution Day Symposium.


    Every September, the American Constitution Society celebrates Constitution Day, as well it should. ACS isn’t alone, of course. Schools around the country, from kindergartens to universities, also commemorate the day in various ways.

    And every year at this time I play the constitutional curmudgeon, warning that Constitution Day may be unconstitutional. You can read previous iterations of my arguments in this blog here and in The New York Times here.

    The basic argument is that Constitution Day is unconstitutional because, as a federal mandate on any public or private educational institution receiving federal funds, it amounts to coerced speech under the First Amendment.  If a kindergarten or university were to refuse to alter their curriculum to cover the topic, they would stand to lose all federal funds.  That sounds to me like a violation of the unconstitutional conditions doctrine.  As Justice Jackson famously said for the Court in West Virginia v Barnette: “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”

    Because I’m a law professor, I can alter the hypothetical to make my point. If Congress passed a law saying “no school receiving federal funds is permitted to offer a course about Islam,” wouldn’t it be clearly unconstitutional?

    Of course the argument is not simple, mostly because the unconstitutional conditions doctrine is a hash. Sometimes the Court allows conditions — see Rumsfeld v FAIR or Rust v Sullivan — and sometimes it doesn’t — see Speiser v Randall or Legal Services Corp. v Velazquez.

    I will say, however, that my argument is stronger this year. Why? Because of Chief Justice Roberts’s opinion in National Federation of Independent Business v Sebelius, the ACA case.