Chief Justice John Roberts Is Running a Clown Court

Roberts' failure to address the Supreme Court justices' corruption says it all.

Illustration of the Supreme Court with Chief Justice Roberts and the justices as clowns and a sign reading
Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts needs to address the rampant corruption on the Court—but he won't. Shutterstock/Austen Risolvato/Rewire News Group illustration

This piece first appeared in our weekly newsletter, The Fallout.

I have a serious question for Chief Justice John Roberts: What in the hell is going on over at the Supreme Court, and when do you plan on doing something—anything—about it?

I originally planned to write about the ongoing ethics scandal related to the justices’ recent financial disclosures and the deteriorating effect it has on our democracy. Roberts needs to address this outright, ongoing, blatant corruption.

Then came the Alito tapes.

Thanks to Lauren Windsor’s undercover reporting, we have confirmation that Justice Samuel Alito is a Christian nationalist, his wife Martha-Ann has a serious thing for flags, and Roberts is just not up to do what this moment requires of him—which at this point would be literally anything at all to address the national threat to our democracy that is Samuel Alito.

Roberts’ failure to address the threat of Christian nationalism along with the conservative legal movement’s absurd financial corruption is such a reflection of the current state of conservative politics.

Do I think Roberts and Alito are aligned in a desire to turn this country into some kind of theocratic republic ruled by kings? No, I don’t. But Roberts’ failure to take any meaningful action against the deep rot of corruption that surrounds Alito, Clarence Thomas, and to a lesser-but-still-meaningful degree Brett Kavanaugh is now a tacit endorsement of it. Democrats have promised an ethics bill that Republicans will surely kill. And the one man who can meaningfully take action refuses to do so.

Just six months after the Court overturned the constitutional right to abortion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, we published an editorial package on Christian nationalism, explaining how the decision not only planted the seeds to erode rights other than abortion, but democracy itself. In that majority opinion, Alito told us exactly who he is and where he wants to take this country—democracy be damned.

Windsor’s reporting confirms what Alito telegraphed in destroying Roe v. Wade. Meanwhile, we’re nearing two years since Dobbs, and we’re waiting now to see how far back Alito and his conservative co-conspirators plan to take both abortion access and our democracy.

And Roberts won’t do anything about it.