U.S. Supreme Court

Justice Thomas gains power of chief justice as Roberts sides with liberal justices

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Justice Clarence Thomas

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas isn’t the chief justice, but he gets one perk of the job when he is in the majority and Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. is in the minority.

The perk, which comes from Thomas’ longest tenure among the justices, is the power to assign opinions, CNN points out in a column by Jeffrey Toobin, the chief legal analyst for CNN.

“In crucial, contested cases, Chief Justice Roberts has increasingly been voting with the three remaining liberals—Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan,” Toobin wrote. “If Roberts continues this pattern, that means Thomas will be the senior justice in several significant 5 to 4 cases and thus enjoy the right to assign majority opinions, including, of course, to himself.”

Thomas has written few important majority opinions, likely because his views are seen as “extreme and eccentric,” Toobin said.

Thomas could have the right to assign the opinion in the Mississippi abortion case if Roberts votes to affirm precedent, and the court’s conservatives disagree, Toobin said.

Thomas has called for overruling abortion-rights precedent, which he considers “grievously wrong.”

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