When he took office, he expressed his desire to put aside the pettiness of politics. He would make it a point, he said, to do away with the destructive divisions of partisanship. He would make it his mission, he told us, to rise above it all—to get things done for the good of the people, and the good of American democracy.
That guy—that hopeful, earnest, sadly Sisyphean guy—was President Obama. Or perhaps it was Bush 43, or Clinton, or Bush 41. It could also, however, have been John Roberts. After his first term as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Roberts told Jeffrey Rosen, a legal scholar and contributing editor at The Atlantic, of his intention to take the partisanship out of the body that strives, more than the other branches, to be above politics. “Politics are closely divided,” Roberts noted. “The same with the Congress. There ought to be some sense of some stability, if the government is not going to polarize completely. It’s a high priority to keep any kind of partisan divide out of the judiciary as well.”
This week made it official: That effort has failed.
With the landmark rulings it issued on the fate of the Affordable Care Act and Constitutionality of same-sex marriage, the Court—the body in which “the judicial power of the United States” is broadly vested—has reached a new nadir of partisan rancor. The Justices didn’t simply disagree on the outcomes of cases; they disagreed on the cases’ moral premises. They disagreed on their own roles in deciding what those premises might be. They descended, as a body, into a kind of judicial chaos, throwing up their hands beneath their heavy robes.