During his confirmation hearings seven years ago, John Roberts presented himself as a man who by both temperament and philosophy fully embodied the virtues of restraint. He would deliver rulings when asked but not otherwise intrude his views. As a judge he would observe a traditional deference to legislators on policy matters, intervening only when necessary; as a member of today's court he would recognize the weight (though not unchangeability) of decisions from the past. His most memorable way of making the point was to liken himself to an umpire who would call balls and strikes but not root for the either team.
In interviews and profiles in the first months after his confirmation, Roberts conveyed his ambition to be a Chief who might pull the squabbling court together, with more large-majority opinions and fewer 5-4 partisan splits. Everyone could draw hope from these sentiments from a brilliant young Chief with a long career ahead of him.
The problem is that on the bench, from September 29, 2005 until this morning, Roberts gave so little evidence that he would practice what he had preached, and so much that he would instead undertake an activist agenda with a partisan bent. Citizens United was the most dramatic but not the only example of a Chief and his majority who went out of their way to answer questions not posed by a case, and through those answers to undo what had seemed settled law. The sporting analogy, as mentioned before, would be an umpire who calls balls and strikes -- and also yells "pass interference" or "foot fault" about games he sees from the corner of his eye.