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John Roberts, the High Court’s Middleman

He was in the majority 97% of the time in the term ending in July, his highest percentage in 15 years.


Photographer: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

For the first time, Roberts stood firmly at the court’s ideological center, casting the pivotal vote in almost every divisive case. He sided with the conservative wing to bolster religious rights in cases involving taxpayer subsidies for private schools and contraceptive insurance coverage. But the appointee of President George W. Bush joined the liberals to deliver narrow victories for abortion rights and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. He did the same in a big win for LGBTQ workers fighting to sue for job discrimination. And when right-leaning critics of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau sought to topple the regulator by arguing that its director had an unconstitutional level of independence, Roberts wrote an opinion allowing a president to fire the director while leaving the agency intact.

Things are about to change. Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s arrival shifts the court further to the right and decreases the chance that Roberts’s vote will decide rulings. Whether his influence endures depends less on his vote than on his ability to persuade what could be the most conservative court in generations.