U.S. Supreme Court

Federal judge calls Chief Justice Roberts 'masterpiece of disingenuousness' in law review article

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Chief Justice John Roberts

U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.

A federal judge appointed by President Bill Clinton is criticizing the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative majority for “undermining American democracy” by weakening the Voting Rights Act, failing to rein in partisan gerrymandering, and increasing the economic and political power of corporations.

U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman of Milwaukee airs his dissatisfaction in an upcoming article for the Harvard Law & Policy Review that is raising eyebrows and eliciting astonishment.

The review is published by the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy, a liberal organization. The Washington Post and Law360 have coverage.

“This screed could have come from a Bernie stump speech,” wrote Josh Blackman, a professor at the South Texas College of Law in Houston for the Volokh Conspiracy. “It has no place in a publication by a federal judge.”

Adelman doesn’t spare U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. in his article, which begins:

“By now, it is a truism that Chief Justice John Roberts’ statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee that a Supreme Court justice’s role is the passive one of a neutral baseball ‘umpire who [merely] calls the balls and strikes’ was a masterpiece of disingenuousness. …

“This is so because the Roberts Court has been anything but passive. Rather, the court’s hard right majority is actively participating in undermining American democracy. Indeed, the Roberts Court has contributed to ensuring that the political system in the United States pays little attention to ordinary Americans and responds only to the wishes of a relatively small number of powerful corporations and individuals.”

Adelman also criticized Republicans for failing to act on President Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“The zealous partisanship the Republicans displayed in connection with the Garland nomination, as well as judicial appointments generally, reminds one of nothing so much as the ‘fireaters,’ those fervent defenders of slavery who pushed the South into the Civil War,” Adelman wrote.

The article is winning praise from two Slate columnists. They say any liberal judges who display passion are deemed to be showing bias, while conservative federal judges have felt free to complain about the evils of “big government” and rant about Planned Parenthood.

“Lawyers on the left are supposed to accept that conservative judges call balls and strikes no matter what, while liberal judges engage in activism if they try to protect minorities, women and the poor,” the columnists wrote in a Slate article.

Adelman stood by his article when he spoke with the Washington Post. “I think it’s totally appropriate to criticize the court when there’s a basis for it,” he said. “Judges are encouraged to comment on the law because we have a particular interest, knowledge and familiarity.”

Adelman told the Washington Post that he wasn’t attacking the court. Instead, he said, he was providing an explanation of what it was doing. “People can disagree with that explanation,” he said.

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