Chief Justice John Roberts says Supreme Court went too far in taking the ‘dramatic step’ of overturning Roe v. Wade
Brent D. Griffiths – June 24, 2022
- Chief Justice John Roberts said the Supreme Court shouldn’t have overturned Roe v. Wade.
- He argued the court’s conservative justices went too far in ending a federal right to abortion.
- He added that a “narrower decision” would have been “markedly less unsettling.”
Chief Justice John Roberts made it abundantly clear that he felt the Supreme Court’s five other conservative justices went too far in their decision on Friday to overturn Roe v. Wade and end a federal right to an abortion.
“The Court’s decision to overrule Roe and Casey is a serious jolt to the legal system—regardless of how you view those cases,” Roberts wrote in his concurring opinion, released on Friday along with the majority opinion. “A narrower decision rejecting the misguided viability line would be markedly less unsettling, and nothing more is needed to decide this case.”
Roberts’ view, though, became largely moot in the face of the bloc of other Republican-appointed justices, including President Donald Trump’s three picks, Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett.
Justice Samuel Alito wrote the court’s majority opinion, which overturned nearly 50 years of precedent holding that abortion rights are part of a constitutional right to privacy. As he had in a leaked draft opinion, Alito torched the landmark 1973 decision in Roe.
“Roe was egregiously wrong from the start,” Alito wrote. “Its reasoning was exceptionally weak, and the decision has had damaging consequences. And far from bringing about a national settlement of the abortion issue, Roe and Casey have enflamed debate and deepened division.”
Roberts has long cut a reputation as a justice who would prefer that the court more directly address the questions before it as opposed to authoring sweeping opinions that go down in the history books. It has long been thought that this principle animated his decision to preserve the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, better known as Obamacare, in the 2012 ruling that protected President Barack Obama’s signature domestic achievement.
Roberts made clear in his concurring opinion that he would have upheld Mississippi’s near-complete ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy — the law at the center of the case decided on Friday — but he stressed that overturning Roe and the 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey would have profound effects. Roberts called such an action a “dramatic step” that Mississippi did not want the court to take. (The state changed its view of the case after Barrett was confirmed to the court.)
“Both the Court’s opinion and the dissent display a relentless freedom from doubt on the legal issue that I cannot share,” Roberts wrote. “I am not sure, for example, that a ban on terminating a pregnancy from the moment of conception must be treated the same under the Constitution as a ban after fifteen weeks.”
Roberts’ preferred decision would still have significantly curtailed abortion rights. Upholding Mississippi’s law without overturning Roe would have limited the concept of fetal viability that the court made the center of its ruling in Casey. Roberts said he agreed that the court erred in its original decision in Roe, but he added that the justices did not need to gut the decision “all the way down to the studs.”