The impact of the Roberts Court

U.S. Supreme Court
The United States Supreme Court, the highest court in the United States, in 2010.
Steve Petteway, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States

The Supreme Court will release opinions this month in major cases concerning affirmative action, voting rights and same-sex marriage.

These opinions, like other high-profile opinions before it, will leave their mark on American life, said Juan Williams in The Hill:

The upcoming rulings in three cases go beyond the risk of playing a role in presidential politics. These cases touch Americans on a personal level. They involve traditions, religious beliefs and longstanding efforts to deal with the nation's history of racial bias.

Since the 1950s, these are the types of cases that have stirred the most public backlash and hurt the court's reputation. For example, the 1972 Roe v. Wade case legalizing abortion rights did not end arguments over a woman's right to end a pregnancy. In fact, it created a political wedge issue. A key position among those opposed to abortion rights is that the court should have left it to local elected officials to deal with a personal and religious issue on a state-by-state basis.

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The decisions could also give greater insight into the workings of the court under Chief Justice John Roberts. Adam Liptak wrote about the court's business-friendly record for The New York Times:

While the current court's decisions, over all, are only slightly more conservative than those from the courts led by Chief Justices Warren E. Burger and William H. Rehnquist, according to political scientists who study the court, its business rulings are another matter. They have been, a new study finds, far friendlier to business than those of any court since at least World War II.

In the eight years since Chief Justice Roberts joined the court, it has allowed corporations to spend freely in elections in the Citizens United case, has shielded them from class actions and human rights suits, and has made arbitration the favored way to resolve many disputes. Business groups say the Roberts court's decisions have helped combat frivolous lawsuits, while plaintiffs' lawyers say the rulings have destroyed legitimate claims for harm from faulty products, discriminatory practices and fraud.


An Inside Look at Backstories of Big Decisions in Chief Justice Roberts' Court
"And the court has had a conservative majority for some time. But with the Roberts court in particular, we saw the court become a little more conservative than its predecessor court, mainly because of the addition of Justice Samuel Alito, who replaced Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. She often was more of a moderating force on the court, and he is much more conservative." (PBS Newshour)

The 9 Greatest Supreme Court Justices
"There is no standard profile for the selection of great justices. However, close examination of the records of the 111 justices who have served on the Court reveals that a select few managed to see a legal horizon far beyond the view of their contemporaries, often espousing views that would not reflect majoritarian values for decades. (American History magazine)

Of course the Supreme Court is political
"The people who serve as judges on the Supreme Court have been vetted by political parties, have often worked for political parties, frequently have loyalties to people in political parties who helped their career, and spend much of their time in Washington, where they sort into social groups they find congenial. They are, in other words, more, not less, political than most Americans. So it would be very surprising if they were less, rather than more, polarized on an issue as politically polarizing as the health-care law." (Washington Post)

Watch Examining Supreme Court Session Through the Lens of History on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.