Yesterday Andrew McCarthy posted an article at The National Review about a recent Supreme Court decision. The title of the article is, “It wasn’t just religious liberty that Chief Justice Roberts strangled.” The article is detailed and complex, so I suggest that you follow the link to read the entire article. However, there are a few things I want to point out that I think are very significant.
The article notes:
Most startling was that Chief Justice John Roberts not only joined the court’s four left-leaning justices (Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan) in declining to uphold religious liberty. Roberts also wrote a brief opinion explaining his decision.
That opinion is an eye-opener. Roberts accords the right to worship no deference by virtue of its being a fundamental liberty expressly protected by the First Amendment. We are to see it as an activity like any other activity, commercial or social, the pros and cons of which technocrats must weigh in fashioning regulations. The opinion, moreover, champions the power of government officials to dictate to the people who elect them without “second-guessing by an unelected federal judiciary” — exactly the power that the Bill of Rights, and the incorporation jurisprudence by which the court has applied much of it to the states, are meant to deny.
The article also points out:
In rejecting the religious liberty claim, Roberts counters that it is not a matter of unlawful discrimination if different things are regulated in different ways. Religious gatherings, he rationalized, are being restricted like gatherings that are physically similar, such as lectures, concerts, theater productions and spectator sports. He conceded that less intense restrictions have been imposed on other activities, such as shopping, banking and laundering. But that, he insists, is because of salient differences in the way they are conducted: small groups, no extended proximity, and so on.
But wait a second. What about the constitutional pedigree of religious exercise? That was the point pressed by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, in a brief dissent joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch. (Justice Samuel Alito also opposed the denial of First Amendment relief but did not join Kavanaugh’s dissenting opinion.)
The article concludes:
There is no recognition, in Roberts’ rendering, that there is another side to this equation — a side where 400 times the number of people who’ve died have lost their jobs, millions of them facing ruin. The stubborn message: Don’t expect the court to help you, you’re the ones who elected these people; if you don’t like what they do, un-elect them. If you’ve elected social engineers who say the Bill of Rights is above their pay grade, that’s your problem.
The justices are happy to order that abortion must be available, to decide which couples (or perhaps throuples) must be permitted to marry, and to dictate what’s ever next in the ceaseless march of progressive, organic “liberty.” But as for the liberties that are actually in the Constitution, we are on our own.
Unfortunately Justice Roberts has been something of a disappointment to those of us who expected him to be a responsible judge who would uphold the Constitution. He has wandered away from the constitutional role of the judiciary more than once.