SCOTUS Decisions Aren’t Always As Partisan As Perceived

The Supreme Court has wrapped up its most recent session, much attention, as usual, was paid to the split in high profile decisions. The focus on split decisions often takes on a life of its own leading to the narrative of an ideological split on the court. This split is commonly reduced to the conservative and liberal justices on the court. Make no mistake, there’s without question wide-ranging judicial philosophy on the court and it does at times fit the conservative vs liberal narrative. But in reality, that’s just not the most common outcome. There is far more agreement on the high court and far less ideological decision-making than is often presented in typical news reporting. 

I’ll focus just on the rulings which have taken place with the current court since Brett Kavanagh joined in 2018. This is how often each justice ruled with the majority opinion:

  • Roberts: 91%
  • Kavanaugh: 91%
  • Kagan: 81%
  • Gorsuch: 80%
  • Breyer: 78%
  • Alito: 76%
  • Ginsburg: 76%
  • Sotomayor: 74%
  • Thomas: 71%

Surprised? Is there division on the court? Clearly. Is it anywhere near what you might have imagined? I’d suspect for most, the answer would be no. This paints a picture of a Supreme Court in which Chief Justice John Roberts is the standard-bearer not just in title but in leadership as his opinion prevails most of any justice and is most commonly on the same page with Brett Kavanaugh, who as the newest justice would appear to be most influenced by his leadership. But beyond those observations, everything takes on a different reality than left-right narratives. Would you have guessed Kagan is the most likely to vote with John Roberts aside from Kavanaugh? Or that the Justice least likely to vote with the Roberts is Clearance Thomas? This is an analytical perspective illustrating the Supreme Court as far less ideological and far more pragmatic than is commonly presented. 

Photo by: Getty Images North America

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