John Roberts on Civil Rights

Supreme Court Justice (nominated by Pres. George W. Bush 2005)


Protections for gender apply to transgender people too

[The Bostock v. Clayton County ruling in favor of transgender employment rights] was a surprising one from an increasingly conservative court. Gay and transgender rights groups considered the case more important than the right to marry, because nearly every LGBTQ adult has or needs a job.

Equally surprising was that the decision was written by Neil Gorsuch, who was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and the court's four more liberal members to form a majority. "An employer who fired an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex," Gorsuch wrote. "Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision. Those who adopted the Civil Rights Act might not have anticipated their work would lead to this particular result," he wrote, adding that that's "no reason to ignore the law's demands. Only the written word is the law, and all persons are entitled to its benefit."

Source: NBC News on BOSTOCK v. CLAYTON COUNTY, GEORGIA , Jun 15, 2020

Constitution says nothing about marriage OR gay marriage

In dissent [in the Supreme Court ruling which legalizes gay marriage nationwide], Chief Justice John Roberts said the Constitution had nothing to say on the subject of same-sex marriage. "If you are among the many Americans--of whatever sexual orientation--who favor expanding same-sex marriage, by all means celebrate today's decision," Chief Justice Roberts wrote. "Celebrate the achievement of a desired goal. Celebrate the opportunity for a new expression of commitment to a partner. Celebrate the availability of new benefits. But do not celebrate the Constitution. It had nothing to do with it."

Roberts said the majority opinion was "an act of will, not legal judgment" in his dissent. "The court invalidates the marriage laws of more than half the states and orders the transformation of a social institution that has formed the basis of human society for millennia, for the Kalahari Bushmen & the Han Chinese, the Carthaginians & the Aztecs," he wrote. "Just who do we think we are?

Source: N.Y. Times on 2015 SCOTUS decision on Obergefell v. Hodges , Jun 27, 2015

Racial discrimination in voting has changed in last 50 years

Chief Justice John Roberts announced an opinion he had assigned himself. The case was Shelby County v. Holder, a challenge to the constitutionality of a major portion of the Voting Rights Act.

"Any racial discrimination in voting is too much," Roberts declared that morning. "But our country has changed in the last fifty years."

One of the most important pieces of civil rights legislation of the twentieth century, the protections Congress had reauthorized only a few years earlier were no longer justifiable. Racism was pretty much over now, and everyone could just move on.

RBG waited quietly for her turn. Announcing a majority opinion in the court chamber is custom, but reading aloud in dissent is rare. It's like pulling the fire alarm, a public shaming of the majority that you want the world to hear. At stake, RBG said, was "what was once the subject of a dream, the equal citizenship stature of all in our polity, a voice to every voter in our democracy undiluted by race."

Source: Notorious RBG, by Irin Carmon & Shana Knizhnik, p. 3-4 , Jun 25, 2013

1995: Pro bono work for gay rights activists

Supreme Court nominee John Roberts donated his time to work behind the scenes for gay rights activists--and helped win a decision that's been hailed as the "single most important positive ruling" for the gay rights movement.

In 1995 Roberts agreed to help represent the gay rights activists as part of his law firm's pro bono work. The case before the Supreme Court, Romer vs. Evans, dealt with a voter-approved 1992 Colorado initiative that would have allowed employers and landlords to exclude gays from jobs and housing. A 6-3 ruling striking down the initiative was handed down in May 1996.

One gay activist called the Supreme Court ruling the "single most important positive ruling in the history of the gay rights movement." Antonin Scalia--who was joined in his dissent by Clarence Thomas and William H. Rehnquist--said: "Coloradans are entitled to be hostile toward homosexual conduct."

Source: NewsMax.com. "Roberts helped Gay Rights" , Aug 4, 2005

No paper trail as a judge on gay rights issues

Gay rights advocates like the Human Rights Campaign say that Roberts has no paper trail on the issue as a judge. But they fear that his conservative Republican record, including his criticism of the right to privacy authorized by Roe, bodes badly for them.
Source: Slate.com , Jul 19, 2005

Ok for religious groups to meet at schools

Roberts has argued on behalf of his clients for the expansion of religion in public schools. In a coauthored brief to the Supreme Court in Lee v. Weisman, he argued that religious ceremonies should be allowed to be a part of graduation ceremonies. The Supreme Court rejected that position. But Roberts successfully argued to the court that religious groups should not be banned from meeting on school grounds in the case of Mergens v. Westside Community School District.
Source: Slate.com , Jul 19, 2005

Opposed simplifying complaints against voting rights

For Reagan, Roberts opposed a congressional effort-in the wake of the 1980 Supreme Court decision Mobile v. Bolden-to make it easier for minorities to successfully argue that their votes had been diluted under the Voting Rights Act.
Source: Emily Bazelon and David Newman, Slate.com , Jul 1, 2005

Weaken the separation of church and state

For Bush Senior, Roberts co-authored a friend-of-the-court brief arguing that public high-school graduation programs could include religious ceremonies. The Supreme Court disagreed by a vote of 5-4. (Lee v. Weisman, 1992)
Source: Emily Bazelon and David Newman, Slate.com , Jul 1, 2005

Against Affirmative Action

John G. Roberts, nominated by President Bush to a seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, has a record of hostility to the rights of women and minorities. While working under Presidents Reagan and Bush, Roberts supported a hard-line, anti-civil rights policy that opposed affirmative action, would have made it nearly impossible for minorities to prove a violation of the Voting Rights Act and would have “resegregated” America’s public schools.
Source: Report of the Alliance for Justice , Feb 1, 2003

Should make secret settlements in some cases

Q: How do you feel about the validity of maintaining or throwing out secret settlements that are made which prevent other people who may be using these defective products from knowing that they are defective, like defective tires, for example, defective medical devices, for example?

A: I certainly am aware of the cases as they’ve come up. And I hesitate to opine on it without having studied the law. I certainly would obviously follow the Supreme Court precedent and the precedent of the circuit if I were to be confirmed. I suspect that you’re correct that the applicable law would involve some balancing. There are some interests in sealing settlements in some cases, but I’d be very surprised if that required or permitted sealing in a case where that actively concealed a harmful condition on an ongoing basis that was continuing to present a danger. But, again, I’m just surmising at this point, and as a judge, I would apply the law in the circuit or in the Supreme Court.

Source: Hearing before the Judiciary Committee of the US Senate , Jan 29, 2003

1st Amendment protects church's anti-gay funeral pickets.

Justice Roberts wrote the Court's decision on SNYDER v. PHELPS on Mar 2, 2011:

Marine Matthew Snyder was killed in the line of duty in Iraq. On public property about 1000 feet from his funeral service, the Westboro Baptist Church followed its custom of protesting at the funerals of service members with signs condemning both homosexuality and the US for supporting it. Snyder's father has been stricken by a grievous emotional reaction since. He sued the protestors and the church for intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED).


The Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment can be a defense, including those for IIED, if speech regards a public, rather than private, concern. The protestor's signs here concerned plainly public matters such as the moral conduct of the US and its citizens, the fate of the nation, homosexuality in the military, and scandals involving the Catholic clergy. The protestors can't be said to have used speech on public issues to cloak an attack on the plaintiff. The protestors chose the location to increase publicity, but this does not mean the speech is less protected.


The State is not always powerless to provide protection, but upholding IIED liability on the protestors here would not serve the State's interest in protecting citizens against severe emotional harm. In this case, the protestors complied with police directions, picketed where it was lawful to do so, and could not be seen from the funeral.


The protestors engaged in a personal attack on Snyder's memory through signs implying he was a homosexual, a Catholic, and doomed to hell for these “sins.” The direct nature of this assault on the dead marine and his family were made clear in a subsequent Internet posting directed at Snyder's character and his parents. The First Amendment does not shield these verbal assaults at such an emotionally vulnerable moment.
Source: Supreme Court case 11-SNYDER argued on Oct 6, 2010

Sociological analysis insufficient to prove gender bias.

Justice Roberts joined the Court's decision on WAL-MART v. DUKES on Jun 20, 2011:

The plaintiffs were certified as a class by the district court in their suit against Wal-Mart, on behalf of 1.5 million female employees, seeking punitive damages and backpay owing to Wal-Mart's alleged discrimination against them in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.


The certification of the class was inappropriate. Class certification requires proof that a class of persons have suffered the same injury by a general policy of discrimination. Wal-Mart's corporate policy forbids discrimination, and the plaintiff's only evidence of a general policy of discrimination is a sociologist's analysis asserting that Wal-Mart's corporate culture made it vulnerable to gender bias. Since the expert testified he could not estimate what percent of Wal-Mart employment decisions might be determined by stereotypical thinking, his testimony was not significant proof. That Wal-Mart gave local supervisors discretion over employment matters did not show that a central direction to use that discretion in a discriminatory manner. The claims for backpay were improperly added onto a class provision that allows only equitable relief, not monetary relief.

DISSENTED: GINSBURG concurs in part, dissents in part; joined by BREYER, SOTOMAYOR & KAGAN

I agree this class should not have been certified, but such a class might have proper under Rule 23(b)(3) seeking money damages. The Court should not have ruled on the class at this time, but rather remanded the issue for consideration and decision. The district court found evidence that 70% of hourly employees are female, but only 33% of managers. That, with other evidence, could support a common question, necessary for the resolution of all class members' cases, that corporate culture and lack of formal standards or training for employment decisions may have led to discrimination.
Source: Supreme Court case 11-WALMART argued on Mar 29, 2011

Other Justices on Civil Rights: John Roberts on other issues:
Samuel Alito(since 2006)
Amy Coney Barrett(since 2020)
Stephen Breyer(since 1994)
Neil Gorsuch(since 2017)
Ketanji Brown Jackson(nominated 2022)
Elena Kagan(since 2010)
Brett Kavanaugh(since 2018)
John Roberts(since 2005)
Sonia Sotomayor(since 2009)
Clarence Thomas(since 1991)

Former Justices:
Merrick Garland(nominated 2016)
Ruth Bader Ginsburg(1993-2020)
Anthony Kennedy(1988-2018)
Antonin Scalia(1986-2016)
John Paul Stevens(1975-2010)
David Souter(1990-2009)
Sandra Day O'Connor(1981-2006)
William Rehnquist(1975-2005)

Party Platforms:
Democratic Platform
Green Platform
Libertarian Platform
Natural Law Platform
Reform Platform
Republican Platform
Tea Platform
Civil Rights
Foreign Policy
Free Trade
Govt. Reform
Gun Control
Health Care
Homeland Security
Social Security
Tax Reform

Page last updated: Mar 21, 2022