Pence: Let's face it, Chief Justice Roberts is a "disappointment to conservatives"

“Look, we have great respect for the institution of the Supreme Court of the United States,” Mike Pence tells CBN’s David Brody in an upcoming interview, and then goes on to call its Chief Justice a “disappointment.” That is nothing new for conservative activists, nor is making the Supreme Court a major issue in presidential elections. Having a Vice President call out a justice by name as a “disappointment” does seem a little unusual, however, and it escalates a feud between the White House and the Chief Justice that has percolated for the last few years.

Vice President Mike Pence described Chief Justice John Roberts in a new interview as a “disappointment” to conservative voters, explicitly seeking to cast the Supreme Court as a campaign issue ahead of the November election.

“Look, we have great respect for the institution of the Supreme Court of the United States,” Pence told the Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody on Wednesday. “But Chief Justice John Roberts has been a disappointment to conservatives — whether it be the Obamacare decision, or whether it be a spate of recent decisions all the way through Calvary Chapel.”

The vice president’s criticism of the chief justice’s jurisprudence comes after Roberts sided with the high court’s Democratic appointees on several occasions in recent months, dealing the Trump administration defeats on issues including LGBT workplace discrimination, immigration and abortion. …

“We remember the issue back in 2016, which I believe loomed large in voters’ decisions between Hillary Clinton and the man who would become president of the United States,” he said. “And some people thought that it wouldn’t be as big an issue these days. But I think that’s all changed.”

Pence isn’t saying anything conservatives aren’t already discussing. Chatter about Roberts has increased ever since his Obamacare ruling eight years ago, and it seems lately that Roberts has tacked to the center more deliberately since Anthony Kennedy retired. Nor are conservatives the only people noticing this drift. Yesterday, the Washington Post took note of a new Gallup poll showing that the Supreme Court has its highest approval rating in eleven years, and that a majority of Democrats approve of them for the first time in Trump’s presidency:

The Supreme Court has its highest public approval rating in a decade, according to a new Gallup poll, after a consequential term in which both liberals and conservatives could claim wins.

The approval rate of 58 percent is the highest since 2009, the polling organization said.

At a time when partisan divides are starker than ever, perhaps the most significant finding is that almost equal majorities of Democrats (56 percent), Republicans (60 percent) and independents (57 percent) approve of the court’s performance. …

It is the first time since President Trump took office that a majority of Democrats have had a favorable opinion of the court. Perhaps that is because the administration suffered a number of setbacks at the court this term, including findings that Trump is not immune from answering subpoenas from congressional investigators and a state prosecutor regarding his personal financial records.

WaPo reporter Paul Kane sees deliberate strategy rather than random caseload as the reason:

Amazing is certainly one word for it. Kane’s not the first person who has publicly concluded that Roberts has steered the court for political purposes, albeit against partisan purposes, in order to strengthen its position with the American electorate. That, however, isn’t the role of the Supreme Court, and its use of lifetime appointments is supposed to be a bulwark against such considerations.

If Roberts was seen as more of a straight shooter, then Pence’s direct criticism might seem more out of bounds. As it is, though, Roberts is making himself and the court fair game — and Pence is correct at least in noting that control of the court’s appointments should be a major consideration in the 2020 election. And in every other election as long as the court continues bargaining for popular approval rather than sticking to its job.