John Roberts has voted for restrictions on abortion. Will he overturn Roe v. Wade?

Posted Wednesday, 15 May 2019 ‐ CNN

Washington (CNN)Chief Justice John Roberts will not vote to strike down Roe v. Wade and outright ban abortion. At least not yet. The 64-year-old appointee of George W. Bush has never endorsed abortion rights or ever voted to invalidate a tough regulation. Earlier in his career, as a government lawyer, Roberts filed a brief at the high court asserting that the 1973 Roe had been wrongly decided and urged its reversal. But in his new position as the deciding vote on abortion, Roberts today is moving cautiously on any narrowing -- or outright elimination -- of a woman's constitutional right to end a pregnancy. His stance is becoming more crucial as states race to pass laws directly challenging Roe. On Wednesday, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed a near-total abortion ban.Whether such laws are enforced in upcoming months and years likely rests with Roberts. And his 14-year record as chief justice and recent public signals, in the wake of Justice Brett Kavanaugh's replacement of Justice Anthony Kennedy, reveal two relevant traits for predicting the man in the center chair. Roberts works incrementally, laying groundwork for his views, keeping an eye to upcoming cases, and avoiding any "jolt" to precedent, as he pledged at his 2005 Senate confirmation hearings. He is also mightily concerned about the reputation of the Supreme Court and public regard for its legitimacy, and his own. It is unlikely Roberts, who has pondered aloud what history will make of him, would want his legacy clinched by reversal of the 1973 landmark so drenched in the nation's politics. Yet, that is not the end of the matter in the current charged climate over women's reproductive rights. Roberts could join his conservative brethren to reduce access to clinics that perform abortions and endorse other measures -- such as tighter regulation of physicians -- that diminish a women's ability to terminate a pregnancy. If he takes that path, the 1973 Roe and cases since then that forbid government from imposing an "undue burden" on women seeking to abort a fetus before viability would not be outright overturned.Still, Roberts would be breaking from Kennedy's pattern and disrupting life in America. In 2013, he readily turned away from entrenched Supreme Court legal reasoning as he took the lead for the conservatives to eviscerate a major part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, in the case of Shelby County v. Holder.RELATED: Where John Roberts is unlikely to compromiseRoberts' public messageSoon after the tumultuous Senate confirmation of Kavanaugh last October, Roberts pointedly differentiated the role of justices from that of elected officials. "We speak for the Constitution," he declared in a speech in Minnesota. "Our role is clear. We are to interpret the laws and Constitution of the United States and ensure that the political branches act within them." The following month, in response to President Donald Trump, Roberts asserted that federal jurists should not be identified in a political vein by the presidents who appointed them. "We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges," Roberts said in a statement, asserting the independence of the judiciary. But at the same time, Roberts often has reinforced the partisan divide at the Supreme Court, where the five conservative justices are appointees of Republican presidents, the four liberal justices of Democratic presidents. Accelerating the politics of the current moment, Trump campaigned against abortion rights in the 2016 presidential campaign and vowed to appoint justices who oppose Roe v. Wade. Roberts has also voted to reverse four-decade-old precedents that have been part of the nation's legal fabric nearly as long as Roe v. Wade, in last June's controversy over labor union rights and this week's lower-profile test of states' immunity from lawsuits. In this week's case, dissenting justices led by Stephen Breyer warned that the conservative majority was discarding a 1979 precedent without valid grounds and wondered what would be next. Breyer cited a 1992 abortion rights precedent, Casey v. Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania, which had upheld Roe, to support his defense of precedent but lightly also to highlight the potential stakes for reproductive rights. "Today's decision can only cause one to wonder which cases the court will overrule next," Breyer wrote. Roberts' record on abortion As a lawyer in the Ronald Reagan and then George H.W. Bush administration, Roberts criticized the legal underpinnings of Roe.In 1990-1991 Supreme Court litigation over abortion counseling at family planning clinics that receive federal funds, Roberts urged the justices to use the case to reverse Roe. On behalf of the Bush administration, he wrote that the constitutional core of Roe, giving women a privacy right to choose whether to carry a pregnancy to term, finds "no support in the text, structure, or history of the Constitution." The Supreme Court ruled for the administration on the disputed regulation but declined to take up Roe as the Roberts' brief had urged. During his Senate confirmation hearing in 2005, Roberts described Roe as settled precedent and said, "I do think that it is a jolt to the legal system when you overrule a precedent. Precedent plays an important role in promoting stability and evenhandedness." He said justices should not reverse a case simply because they believe it was wrongly decided. Responding to specific queries from senators, he also said his Catholic faith would not be a factor in his rulings. Since then, Roberts has sided in two major cases with states defending strict regulations, most recently in a 2016 Texas controversy. He dissented as the majority struck down the Texas measure that, among its provisions, required physicians who performed abortions to have "admitting privileges" at a local hospital. The law had caused the closure of several clinics. Kennedy cast the key fifth vote, with the four liberal justices, to void the regulations in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt. A potential shift?Yet, last February, when the justices were faced with Louisiana's attempt to enforce similar "admitting privileges" rules, Roberts edged in a different direction. A lower US appeals court had upheld the Louisiana law, rejecting the heart of the Whole Woman's Health decision. A Louisiana health clinic and physicians asked the justices to ensure that the new regulation not go into effect, and potentially shutter clinics, before a test of the law's constitutionality. They argued that the lower court had defied Supreme Court precedent from the 2016 case; Louisiana officials countered that their law could be distinguished from the Texas one struck down. Without Kennedy and with all eyes awaiting the court's late-night action on February 7, Roberts joined with the four liberal justices to prevent the Louisiana law from being enforced while the clinic challengers filed their appeal on the merits.It was a modest, incremental move whose meaning is not yet clear. Roberts could in the end approve the new physician rules when the merits of the dispute are heard.But the action added another component to a chief justice who has assumed the role of the chief decider.

Other articles published by CNN

Posted Friday, 24 May 2019 ‐ CNN

(CNN)Hundreds of thousands of school students around the world walked out of class on Friday to urge their governments to take greater action in slashing greenhouse gas emissions. Climate protests are planned in more than 1600 towns in over 125 countries ...

Posted Friday, 24 May 2019 ‐ CNN

CNN national security analyst John Kirby, a retired rear admiral in the US Navy, was a spokesman for both the State and Defense Departments in the Obama administration. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. View moreĀ opinionĀ articles...

Posted Friday, 24 May 2019 ‐ CNN

(CNN)There's a major shake-up this morning on the world stage. Let's get right to that and what else you need to know to Get Up to Speed and Out the Door. (You can also get "5 Things You Need to Know Today" delivered to your inbox daily. ...

Posted Friday, 24 May 2019 ‐ CNN

Luke McGee is a senior producer at CNN based in London.London (CNN)Brexit has destroyed another British Prime Minister.Three years after voters in the UK mandated their government to take Britain out of the European Union, Theresa May's failure to do so...

Posted Friday, 24 May 2019 ‐ CNN

(CNN)While "Medicare for all" quickly became one of the top policy issues of the 2020 race for the Democratic presidential nomination, polling doesn't show a clear preference for a government-run health care program over the current system.Many Americans ...

Posted Friday, 24 May 2019 ‐ CNN

(CNN)"One man's food is another man's poison." - Lucretius (99-55 B.C.)Most people have this basic understanding of genetics: You inherit genes from your parents, and their DNA combines to create your unique genetic makeup. This can include more obvious ...

Posted Friday, 24 May 2019 ‐ CNN

(CNN)England's rugby sevens players have a secret weapon, but to find it they have to dig deep.It lies at the end of a grueling fitness regime which involves recreating the state of utter exhaustion the body experiences in the "death zone," a term used...

Posted Friday, 24 May 2019 ‐ CNN

(CNN)Among the heavily trafficked streets of Atlanta, a massive urban food forest is growing to provide fresh produce for the public. But what exactly is a food forest?In the fight against food deserts -- low income areas that lack access to fresh, whole ...

Posted Friday, 24 May 2019 ‐ CNN

(CNN)Jayme Closs' relatives spent three months agonizing over the Wisconsin teenager's whereabouts before she escaped from the man who'd gunned down her parents and imprisoned her in a remote cabin. On Friday, they'll spend a few hours facing Jake...

Posted Friday, 24 May 2019 ‐ CNN

(CNN)Bullying is many things: teasing, name-calling, stereotyping, fighting, exclusion, spreading rumors, public shaming and aggressive intimidation. It can be in real life (IRL) or online. During the 2017-18 school year, 7 in 50 public high school...

Posted Friday, 24 May 2019 ‐ CNN

(CNN)Americans have struggled with the many food labels and their meanings for years. Sell by, best by and best if used by -- what are the differences? Now, the Food and Drug Administration wants to make it a little easier. In a new guidance issued...

Posted Friday, 24 May 2019 ‐ CNN

London (CNN Business)1. Oil watch: Investors will be keeping a close eye on oil Friday after it suffered its worst day since Christmas Eve on Thursday.After starting the day above $61, US oil prices nosedived nearly 6%...

Posted Friday, 24 May 2019 ‐ CNN

Hong Kong (CNN Business)Another US tech giant is distancing itself from Huawei. Microsoft (MSFT) has removed the Chinese company's laptops from its online store. A search on Friday for "Huawei" returned no results for any devices, and links to the latest ...

Posted Friday, 24 May 2019 ‐ CNN

London (CNN)UK Prime Minister Theresa May has announced her resignation, finally bowing to intense political pressure over the failure to deliver her signature policy -- Britain's withdrawal from the European Union.May said Friday she would quit as...

Posted Friday, 24 May 2019 ‐ CNN

(CNN)Attorneys representing claims against Harvey Weinstein, his company and former associates have reached a $44 million settlement to resolve civil lawsuits over his alleged sexual misconduct.The attorneys told a Delaware bankruptcy judge Thursday they ...