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The Supreme Court’s Chief Justice John Roberts has become the Court’s swing vote and is now influencing which cases don’t get picked up – including new ones on guns.
CNN‘s Joan Biskupic, a longtime SCOTUS biographer, came out with a deep-dive about Roberts on Monday and reported that the court’s four conservative justices now believe that Roberts won’t be helpful to them on the issue of gun rights so have decided to steer clear of the issue.
Biskupic also said that it was Roberts who was calling the shots on how the Court would handle arguments amid the coronavirus pandemic, refusing to use video software like Zoom.
Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts flexed his power this term, influencing the conservatives not to try and bring a gun rights case forward because he was no longer a reliable vote on their side
Roberts, according to reporting from CNN, also decided that the Court wouldn’t hold COVID era meetings over Zoom, with hearings held over telephone instead
Instead the court held arguments over telephone.
It was Roberts who came up with the plan for how the justices would question lawyers.
In traditional court, justices can insert themselves at any moment and try to pick away at the presenter’s arguments.
Not so for the COVID era, as justices took turns by seniority, with Roberts – as chief justice – going first.
At the end of arguments, justices could ask follow-ups, which could get messy if several tried to speak up at once.
Biskupic’s broader point was that the COVID-19 crisis and how the court handled it was also a show of how Roberts was flexing his power.
He had done so all term, making moves like saving the Obama-era program DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which gave so-called ‘DREAMers’ a legal way to stay in the United States.
But on guns, Roberts’ influence was different, because he actually prevented the conservative wing – comprised of Justices Neil Gorsuch, Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh and Clarence Thomas – from advocating the Court take up more cases.
While Roberts had voted with the conservatives in 2008 and 2010 on guns he ‘more recently seemed to balk at the fractious issue,’ Biskupic wrote.
It takes four justices to select a case they want to hear, but five for a majority ruling.
Sources told CNN that the justices on the right couldn’t count on Roberts as a reliable fifth vote on the gun issue so they stopped pressing to hear them.
Liberals have historically been for restricting firearms usage and sales, while conservatives have interpreted the Second Amendment as giving them more freedoms.