THE BLOG
09/29/2015 10:33 am ET Updated Sep 29, 2016

If You Liked 10 Years Of The Roberts Court, You'll Love The Next Republican President

There were plenty of terrifying moments in this month's Republican presidential debate on CNN, but one of the most terrifying, to me, was when the candidates started to complain that the current U.S. Supreme Court isn't conservative enough.

Specifically, Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz went after Chief Justice John Roberts, who has led what law professor Erwin Chemerinksy has called "the most conservative court since the mid-1930s" but whose appointment the conservative far-right Cruz nonetheless called a "mistake." What Cruz objected to was Roberts' two votes to save the Affordable Care Act from frivolous conservative lawsuits. What he didn't mention is that a less conservative right-wing Court would not have even entertained those politically motivated cases in the first place. In fact, the Court under Roberts has taken a stunning turn to the Right.

Today marks the 10th anniversary of the day Chief Justice Roberts was sworn in to the Supreme Court. In that decade, aided by the confirmation of fellow George W. Bush nominee Samuel Alito, he has led a Court that has radically reshaped vast swathes of the law, undermining constitutional protections for civil rights and voting rights, reproductive freedom, workplace fairness, the environment, gun violence, consumer fairness and representative democracy as a whole.

As People For the American Way explains in "Judgment Day 2016," a new analysis of Roberts' decade at the head of the Supreme Court, under his leadership the Court "has issued more than 165 5-4 decisions, many of which have bent the law and defied logic, seriously harmed the rights of ordinary Americans, promoted the interests of powerful corporations, and damaged our democracy."

The most infamous of these is probably Citizens United v. FEC, which, along with a set of related cases, gutted the country's campaign finance system, allowing wealthy individuals and corporate interests almost unchecked influence over American elections. But the Roberts Court's gifts to Corporate America did not end there. Among the cases decided by the court's five-justice conservative majority were Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co., which undermined women's ability to seek equal pay for equal work; Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, which upended religious liberty protections to allow corporations to deny full health insurance coverage to their employees; and AT&T v. Concepcion, which protected corporations that cheat large numbers of customers out of small amounts of money.

The Court's conservative right-wing bent has extended to civil rights cases, most stunningly its 5-4 ruling gutting the enforcement mechanism of the Voting Rights Act, which had allowed the Justice Department to review changes in voting laws in areas with a history of racial discrimination in election practices. In other cases, the court has been just one vote away from wreaking havoc on civil rights laws, including the 5-4 decision in which Justice Anthony Kennedy joined the four moderate Justices to preserve the ability to effectively enforce the Fair Housing Act, another critical achievement of the Civil Rights Movement.

This Court will rightly be remembered by many as the one that guaranteed gays and lesbians the right to marry in Obergefell v. Hodges. But that landmark case, in which Justice Kennedy joined the moderate Justices, was one bright spot in a very bleak landscape.

It's important to remember as well that Chief Justice Roberts, whom Republicans are now attacking as too liberal, wrote the conservative justices' scathing dissent in that case. If conservatives get one more vote on the Supreme Court, Obergefell could be in danger. If there is one thing the Roberts Court has taught us, it is that there is no such thing as settled law. Despite predictions that the Republican Party would just fold up its tent on the marriage issue, its presidential candidates are campaigning with promises to appoint Justices who will overturn the decision.

Whatever issue you care about most in the upcoming election - civil rights, health care, reproductive freedom, LGBT rights, or others - it will almost certainly end up before the Supreme Court. And the composition of that Court, and whether it will protect our rights or defer to big corporations and right-wing interests, will depend greatly on whether a Democrat or Republican is elected as our next president.

By the end of the next president's first term, four of the current Supreme Court Justices will be in their 80s, past modern Justices' average retirement age of 78. This means that the next president will likely have the power to either turn back the Court's rightward swing ... or preserve or worsen it for decades to come.