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.

Go deeper

Supreme Court strikes down Louisiana abortion law

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The Supreme Court struck down abortion restrictions in Louisiana on Monday, a sign that even if the court's newly expanded conservative majority wants to chip away at abortion rights, it will likely do so incrementally.

Why it matters: The court's 5-4 ruling largely leaves the status quo of abortion law unchanged, affirms the court’s precedents and leaves big decisions about the future of abortion access for another day.

Biden releases plan to strengthen coronavirus supply chain

Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

Joe Biden's campaign released a three-part plan Tuesday to rebuild U.S. supply chains in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, and it's centered around the idea that the country is more vulnerable to global disruptions in spite of President Trump's "America First" rhetoric.

Why it matters: Biden is proposing a way to make sure the U.S. doesn't rely on other countries for personal protective equipment (PPE) and other related medical supplies. That's another way of acknowledging that we're not getting over this health crisis anytime soon.

Updated 58 mins ago - Politics & Policy

The major police reforms that have been enacted since George Floyd's death

NYPD officers watch a George Floyd protest in Manhattan on June 6. Photo: Scott Heins/Getty Images

Nationwide Black Lives Matter protests sparked by George Floyd's killing have put new pressure on states and cities to scale back the force that officers can use on civilians.

Why it matters: Police reforms of this scale have not taken place in response to the Black Lives Matter movement since its inception in 2013, after George Zimmerman's acquittal for shooting Trayvon Martin, an unarmed Black teenager.