OPINION: This article contains commentary which may reflect the author's opinion
Relationships and perceptions are changing in the Supreme Court of the Untied States.
Formerly, there was a little-seen warm moment between Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Clarence Thomas last November 1, just before the Supreme Court heard arguments on Texas’ abortion ban, CNN reported reminiscing on more congenial days.
Roberts announced that 30 years ago on that exact date, a ceremonial investiture for Thomas had been held. Thomas, sitting to Roberts’ right, beamed and slung his arm over the chief’s shoulder.
That is not the case now, during the current SCOTUS deliberations over the fate of Roe vs. Wade.
The leaked draft of Justice Alito’s opinion draft has caused protests by pro-abortion groups, and now it seems the SCOTUS justices are at each other as well.
Alito’s draft of his opinion stated that it is time to revisit the ruling, as much has changed since 1973 and the ruling was even flawed then.
The justices do not all have the same opinion. Even conservative justices’ opinions are slightly differed.
Since repealing the law would resent a wide range of issues for states to deal with, including women’s rights, medical rights, and more, the differences between conservative SCOTUS justices are becoming apparent.
CNN previously reported that Roberts was trying to forestall reversal of Roe, even though he favors upholding the Mississippi ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
Roberts, with his institutionalist approach, CNN reports now, is positioned as the one justice who might generate a compromise opinion that stops short of completely overturning Roe v. Wade, at least this year. That would thwart an outcome that Thomas has worked toward for decades.
Whether he has made progress is not known, but Roberts has a record of orchestrating 11th hour turnarounds in major cases, much to the consternation of his conservative brethren CNN wrote.
The two conservative justices most likely receptive to Roberts’ appeal to slow down Roe’s reversal would also be the newest: Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.
Thomas has a different stance.
Thomas has been vocal over the years in condemning Roe Vs. Wade, for legal reasons.
He has been known to say that there should be new thought applied, rather than a blanket adherence to precedent.
It is not unusual to hear Thomas deride the court’s traditional adherence to precedent, what’s known by the Latin phrase of stare decisis, CNN reports. “We use stare decisis as a mantra when we don’t want to think,” he insisted in an Atlanta speech in early May.
Thomas is known for putting his cards on the table and abhorring gamesmanship. The first attribute he ascribed to late Justice Ruth Ginsburg was revealing: “You knew where she was.”
Roberts, unlike Thomas, has a reputation for being guarded.
Before this court session, the justices’ last review of abortion rights law came in 2020, when Ginsburg was still on the bench and Roberts cast the decisive vote to strike down a restrictive Louisiana abortion law.
Roberts, who has opposed abortion rights in the past, based his vote on adherence to precedent.
Thomas was among the four dissenters in that case of June Medical Services v. Russo. In a solo dissent, he wrote that abortion-rights precedent had been created “out of whole cloth, without a shred of support from the Constitution’s text.”
And the justice who has increasingly found greater support for his views declared, “Our abortion precedents are grievously wrong and should be overruled.”
Now, last week at a Dallas conference, CNN reported that Thomas took a surprising, public jab at Roberts, CNN reports.
Thomas, who has a reputation for staying in the good graces of fellow justices, said last week, “We actually trusted each other. [before 2005, when Roberts joined SCOTUS] We may have been a dysfunctional family, but we were a family, and we loved it,” implying that the court was better before Robert’s appointment to it.
As Thomas responded to a question about relations between justices, such as the celebrated friendship of the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia, Thomas said, “This is not the court of that era.”
“I sat with Ruth Ginsburg for almost 30 years. And she was actually an easy colleague for me. You knew where she was (on legal questions), and she was a nice person to deal with. Sandra Day O’Connor, you could say the same thing.”
Thomas referred to the bench from 1994 to 2005, when the same nine were together with no change and said: “The court that was together for 11 years was a fabulous court. It was one you looked forward to being a part of.” (Thomas did not respond to a CNN request for an interview.)
Thomas’ reminiscing of a former SCOTUS is neither here nor there now. It remains to be seen how the current SCOTUS will interpret the 1973 law, it’s precedent and the relevance today in regard to changes in understanding.