WASHINGTON -- The shrewdest, most manipulative and radical politician in this city isn't the president or a member of Congress. He's the chief justice of the United States Supreme Court, John G. Roberts Jr.
Roberts assured the nation during his 2005 confirmation hearing that he would be an umpire of constitutional law, but instead he has become the cleanup hitter, manager and team owner.
In a now familiar two-step of jurisprudence, the Roberts Court on Wednesday tactically ceded ground it did not regard as crucial -- this time, on two gay rights cases. Cable TV was full of smiling gay rights activists, happy that the Supreme Court had effectively restored same-sex marriage in California and ensured federal benefits for same-sex couples married in the 12 states (and D.C.) that sanction it.
But politically, these tolerant rulings on the country's social fabric deflect attention from the Roberts Court's deeper goal: to remove the federal government as an impediment to corporate, state and local power. In other words, to dismantle a framework of progressive laws and court rulings stretching back to Teddy Roosevelt, the New Deal and the Great Society.
"Roberts has a long-range plan for radical change," said Norman Ornstein, a senior scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. "And he's moving faster than he thought possible when he started eight years ago."
Viewed over a series of years, the major decisions of the Roberts Court exhibit a contrapuntal political rhythm -- and a sharp awareness of how it's all playing.
Roberts may have wanted to be cautious initially, but his eyes grew wide when presented with the Citizens United case. In 2010, he led the court to declare that corporations, like individuals, have free speech rights that bar the government from limiting what they spend independently on campaigns and elections.
The reaction was swift -- and negative.
"I think the chief justice was taken aback a bit," said Ornstein. "I don't think he expected as much criticism as he got."
So even as the court sought ways to limit federal regulation of business and markets, Roberts boldly created a majority to uphold the central provision of President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act in the midst of the 2012 campaign.
Court observers figured -- rightly as it turned out -- that Roberts would balance that move with the one he made on Tuesday: writing the opinion that eviscerated the Voting Rights Act and essentially freed the Republican-dominated South from the last vestiges of federal control of the region's election laws.
And then observers figured that once the Supreme Court had lurched to the right on voting rights, it would angle back on gay rights. As his final act in the two-step for this term, Roberts wrote the majority opinion against supporters of California's Proposition 8, but let Justice Anthony Kennedy do the honors in striking down the Defense of Marriage Act.
Roberts' moves in these cases may also have had a personal dimension. Jean Podrasky, his first cousin, lives in San Francisco and is a lesbian and an avid gay-rights supporter. She was present for the oral argument on Prop 8 and now, thanks to her relative, could marry her partner and receive federal benefits.
Where is Roberts headed from here?
For one, expect to see the Supreme Court take up affirmative action again. On Monday, the court by 7-1 sent the University of Texas at Austin's plan back for review under stricter standards. That or another case will be return to the justices, and the betting is that the Roberts Court may well swat it down again.
Having substantially weakened federal spending limits on elections, the Roberts Court's next move may be to end contribution limits to political parties and candidates' campaigns.
Environmental and other business regulation must also be on the agenda. Indeed, the court spent this term, as it has earlier ones, issuing decisions generally favorable to business, at least as judged by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Gay rights won Wednesday. Voting rights lost Tuesday. But in the Roberts era, big money tends to win every time.
BEFORE YOU GO
06/26/2013 7:32 PM EDT
Catholic Archbishop: DOMA, Prop 8 Rulings 'Hurt Us All'
Some Catholic leaders are asking parishioners to consider the judgment of a higher power, not the nation's highest court.
Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron issued a statement criticizing the Supreme Court's decision in the DOMA and Prop 8 cases, saying that attempts to redefine marriage "hurt us all."
The well-being of our society, our nation, and our families is intimately linked to the institution of marriage. These decisions by the United States Supreme Court will make significantly more difficult our work of upholding the truth that marriage is a lifelong covenant between one man and one woman. Such decisions, made by any civic authority, do not serve the common good.
Catholics and millions of our fellow citizens will continue to make the case, respectfully yet vigorously, that marriage cannot be redefined, and that attempts to do so hurt us all.
Read more here.
06/26/2013 5:58 PM EDT
Stonewall Inn Crowd Celebrates DOMA, Vows To Keep Fighting
The Huffington Post's Lila Shapiro reports:
NEW YORK -- On Wednesday, the Stonewall Inn opened earlier than usual. At 10 a.m., the day the U.S. Supreme Court handed the gay rights movement a landmark victory, the historic bar was dimly lit, strung with rainbow flags, and filled with revelers toasting each other and pledging their determination to keep fighting.
Read the whole post here.
06/26/2013 4:16 PM EDT
Washington National Cathedral Rings Bells Celebrating Gay Marriage Rulings
The Washington National Cathedral rang bells at noon today to celebrate the Supreme Court rulings on the Defense Of Marriage Act and Prop 8.
Rev. Gary Hall, Dean of the Cathedral, released a statement soon after the rulings were announced:
“We are ringing our bells at the Cathedral to celebrate the extension of federal marriage equality to all the same-sex couples modeling God’s love in lifelong covenants," he said. "Our prayers for continued happiness are with them and with all couples who will be joined in matrimony in the years to come, whether at Washington National Cathedral or elsewhere."
Click here to hear the bells.
06/26/2013 4:12 PM EDT
Matthew Shepard's Mom Responds To DOMA Ruling
Matthew Shepard's mom, Judy, said she wished her son had lived to see Wednesday's Supreme Court ruling striking down DOMA.
"I wish he'd been here to see it," she said. "This case warms my heart, to think that his dream is still coming true."
Click here to read more.
06/26/2013 3:45 PM EDT
Marriage Equality Supporters Pictured Reacting To SCOTUS Rulings From Stonewall Inn
(Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
06/26/2013 3:31 PM EDT
Celebrating From Stonewall Inn, Iconic Location Credited For The Start Of The LGBT Movement
(Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
06/26/2013 3:20 PM EDT
Couple Kiss, Celebrate SCOTUS Decisions While Holding Their Soon-To-Be Adopted Children
(Photo by Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)
06/26/2013 3:09 PM EDT
DOMA Decision Helps LGBT Couples On Immigration
HuffPost's Elise Foley reports:
Judy Rickard, who is 65, and Karin Bogliolo, who is 72, have been together for eight years, legal domestic partners for five and legally married for two. They're one of an estimated 28,500 binational same-sex couples who have been excluded from immigration benefits because of DOMA, which disallowed the federal government from recognizing their marriages. The ruling doesn't entirely fix the problem -- couples must be married rather than partners, and must travel to a state that allows same-sex marriage if they don't live in one -- but it's still a major victory for LGBT rights.
Read more about Rickard and Bogliolo and more couples helped by the DOMA decision here.
06/26/2013 3:07 PM EDT
Food Network Host Announces Engagement To Partner Of 20 Years
Ted Allen, host of the hit Food Network show "Chopped" and his partner of 20 years, interior designer Barry Rice, were "over the moon" when they read on Wednesday morning that the court had ruled the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional.
Their day had come. They were getting married. Allen quickly announced their engagement on Twitter and Facebook. He said that the notices garnered the most enthusiastic response of any he'd ever posted; his Facebook status received 417 comments in the first 40 minutes.
Fellow food competition host Tom Colicchio sent his enthusiastic congratulations to the couple via Twitter.
Allen said that he and Rice would soon begin preparing for their wedding, likely a quiet affair in New York, but for now they're content to revel in the good news.
"I don't think that by any means our movement is finished, that our work is done, but this was an enormous hurdle," he said. "DOMA has been Chopped, sir."
-- Joe Satran
06/26/2013 3:01 PM EDT
'Make Them Hear You'
The Gay Men's Chorus of Washington gathered outside the Supreme Court Tuesday, singing "Make Them Hear You" after the Supreme Court rulings. Watch a video of the performance below: