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Chief Justice John Roberts at the State of the Union in February. Photo: Leah Millis/Pool/Getty Images

After Chief Justice John Roberts stunned conservatives by voting against them on a big case for the third time in 12 days, advocates on both sides agreed on one thing: Roberts is playing a long game.

The state of play: Roberts, 65, nominated by President George W. Bush, is acutely conscious of both his personal legacy and the reputation of the institution. So court-watchers in both parties see a wily pragmatism in his surprise votes.

  • Roberts yesterday joined with the court's liberal bloc in striking down a Louisiana limit on abortion, as he had in the past two weeks on rulings protecting LGBTQ workers and giving a reprieve to Dreamers.
  • "I think Roberts believes he is where much of the country see themselves — conservative about their money and tolerant on social issues," said Hilary Rosen, a Democratic consultant and co-founder of the Time's Up Legal Defense Fund.
  • "The question is whether this year of blatant inequality has changed that balance," she added.

Between the lines: The conservative court is still likely to roll back abortion rights, but the case the court decided yesterday was a bad vehicle to do it.

  • The restrictions the justices struck down were almost identical to restrictions they voided in 2016. Roberts voted to uphold the restrictions in 2016, but he lost. This time, he said, the earlier precedent simply tied his hands. That's hardly judicial activism. States that pass somewhat different abortion limits will still find a conservative majority inclined to support them.
  • In the meantime, Roberts has had little trouble using his capital to advance the conservative cause on business, tax and regulatory issues, as well as important voting rights cases.
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Go deeper

Fox News' John Roberts tears into Trump defenders over white supremacy comments

Fox News reporter John Roberts criticized White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany on Thursday for refusing to provide a "definitive and unambiguous" statement condemning white supremacist groups on behalf of President Trump, arguing that she deflected by only pointing to his past statements.

Why it matters: Roberts pointed out that despite McEnany's insinuation that the media is over-exaggerating the controversy over President Trump telling the far-right Proud Boys to "stand back and stand by" at Tuesday's debate, a number of Trump's Republican allies have urged the president to clarify and unequivocally denounce white supremacy.

Oct 2, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Conservatives invoke JFK to defend ACB

Judge Amy Coney Barrett, President Donald Trump's nominee for the US Supreme Court, meets with Senator from Louisiana Bill Cassidy ((off frame)(R-LA) on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on October, 1, 2020. (Photo by JIM LO SCALZO/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

The Judicial Crisis Network is enlisting John F. Kennedy's voice in a new ad defending Supreme Court Nominee Amy Coney Barrett against concerns that her Catholic faith will guide her judicial decisions.

Scoop: Gina Haspel threatened to resign over plan to install Kash Patel as CIA deputy

CIA Director Gina Haspel. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

CIA Director Gina Haspel threatened to resign in early December after President Trump cooked up a hasty plan to install loyalist Kash Patel, a former aide to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), as her deputy, according to three senior administration officials with direct knowledge of the matter.

Why it matters: The revelation stunned national security officials and almost blew up the leadership of the world's most powerful spy agency. Only a series of coincidences — and last minute interventions from Vice President Mike Pence and White House counsel Pat Cipollone — stopped it.

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