Supreme Court Surprises Analysts With Unanimity

Justices agree more than usual before Biden commission starts considering changes
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 29, 2021 4:30 PM CDT
Supreme Court Justices Surprise Analysts By Agreeing
The Supreme Court poses for a portrait in April. Seated from left are Associate Justice Samuel Alito, Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, Chief Justice John Roberts, Associate Justice Stephen Breyer and Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Standing from left are Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh, Associate...   (Erin Schaff/The New York Times via AP, Pool)

Despite having a solid majority of Republican-appointed members, and the widespread promise and fears of rulings favoring right-wing causes, the Supreme Court has gone in a direction this term that many court watchers didn't expect: down the middle. Along the way, the court has issued more unanimous opinions than it has in at least the past seven years, ABC News reports. It's not a coincidence. "The justices have worked very hard to issue unanimous or near-unanimous rulings this term," said Kate Shaw, a former Supreme Court clerk and a law professor. "The justices pride themselves on standing outside of the world of politics, and they're well aware that the court was the subject of a great deal of political attention over the last year." Former President Trump is among those who predicted otherwise, promising that, with his appointees, the court would rule against the Affordable Care Act, throw out Roe v. Wade, and overturn state election results to keep him in the White House.

This sort of court has been Chief Justice John Roberts' vision all along, said Jeffrey Rosen, a constitutional law professor. He said Roberts has "acknowledged that it was up to his colleagues about whether or not it would work." Justices Brett Kavanaugh, Amy Coney Barrett, Stephen Breyer, and Elena Kagan have signed on, Rosen said: Two-thirds of the rulings in cases argued this term were unanimous or had one dissent, per ABC. The effort has been helped by avoiding sweeping rulings on contentious issues, instead issuing narrow rulings with little effect outside the case at hand. In addition, the institution itself is being reexamined, with movements to expand the court and limit justices' terms. President Biden's commission considering such changes will hear from its first witness Wednesday. "I think this term's unanimous opinions need to be understood against that backdrop," Shaw said, "as the court asserting that the justices are not just politicians in robes, and they won't necessarily rule in line with the expectations of politicians and pundits." (More US Supreme Court stories.)

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