The reason Roberts believes the court’s reputation is at stake may be the key to understanding what’s happened. Roberts doesn’t feel protective of the institution because of parochial vanity or romantic nostalgia. He’s protective of the court because it’s been under relentless attack from the left as long as he’s been there.
Whether it’s Clinton-appointed Stephen Breyer talking darkly at the Aspen Institute about conservative justices or Rachel Maddow’s anti-Supreme Court screeds, or President Obama repeatedly assailing the justices in public, the threat from Democrats to the court is this stark: If you don’t decide cases in our favor, we will delegitimize you in the eyes of the American people.
This is a dangerous game, but it may have worked. Conservatives feel betrayed by Roberts, as perhaps they should. But it’s possible that when we look back on the first 15 years of the 21st century, it will be remembered as the time the Democrats vowed to blow up this country’s democratic institutions unless they got their way. And that’s not “a very good thing.”