U.S. Supreme Court
The U.S. Supreme Court’s newest justice, Brett M. Kavanaugh, has sided with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. in all but one of 25 official decisions.
USA Today notes the justices’ agreement and says the “budding bromance” has stalled the anticipated conservative takeover of the court. Roberts has been the court’s swing vote since the retirement of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, whom Kavanaugh replaced.
The case in which Kavanaugh split with Roberts concerned whether purse snatching is a violent felony under an enhanced sentencing law. Kavanaugh agreed that it was, siding with the court’s other conservatives and liberal Justice Stephen G. Breyer.
Roberts’ break in some cases with the court’s three most conservative justices—including President Donald Trump’s other appointee, Neil M. Gorsuch—could stem from his concern that the court will be seen as political, according to USA Today.
Kavanaugh might share Roberts’ institutional concern, and he might want to be seen as even-handed, USA Today points out. He also might be simply “laying low” following a difficult confirmation battle.
Kavanaugh and Roberts voted together 95% of the time, according to statistics at Empirical SCOTUS. Kavanaugh voted with conservative Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. 90% of the time, with liberal Breyer about 86% of the time, and with Justice Elena Kagan and Gorsuch 81% of the time. He next aligned with Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor both just over 76% of the time this term so far, according to the data.
Kavanaugh and Roberts joined with the court’s four liberals in February in ruling for an Idaho inmate who claimed ineffective assistance by his lawyer. The court’s three most conservative justices dissented in an opinion by Justice Clarence Thomas.
Gorsuch joined a portion of Thomas’ opinion that questioned whether the Sixth Amendment provides a right to government-funded counsel for those who can’t afford to pay for a lawyer.
Kavanaugh and Roberts also joined with liberals in a decision holding that Navy contractors must warn of asbestos exposure even when they don’t add the material to their products.
And they joined with liberals to rule that a Texas inmate met the standards for an intellectual disability, which made him ineligible for execution.
In the Supreme Court’s two 5-4 decisions on the merits this term, however, Kavanaugh and Roberts joined with conservatives to form a majority.
USA Today also noted agreement between Kavanaugh and Roberts in many procedural votes to grant stays and in votes to deny reviews that produced dissents from conservative justices.
Kavanaugh differed with Roberts, however, when the chief justice joined with liberals to grant a stay request to block Louisiana’s restrictive abortion law from taking effect. Kavanaugh also joined with conservatives in a statement regarding a cert denial to express concern about teachers’ religious rights.
USA Today noted that major cases on hot-button issues have yet to be decided, “so trend lines among the justices may not hold through June.”