Conservatives are angry with Chief Justice John Roberts. And they’re not keeping quiet about it after Roberts sided with the Supreme Court’s liberal justices once again. This time it was to deny a rural Nevada church’s request that the top court block the state government from enforcing a policy that limits in-person church attendance to 50 people. “John Roberts has abandoned his oath,” Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas wrote on Twitter.
Cruz was reacting to the decision involving Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley in Dayton, Nevada, which argued that the cap imposed during the coronavirus pandemic was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court disagreed in a 5–4 decision that rejected the Christian church’s request that it should be subject to the same rules that allow casinos and restaurants, among other businesses, to operate at 50 percent capacity. Roberts sided with the liberal majority and denied the request without an explanation, which is standard practice for emergency motions. In contrast, the four more conservative members of the court filed three strongly worded dissents saying they would have granted the church’s request while the court considered the case more carefully. “The Constitution guarantees the free exercise of religion,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote. “It says nothing about the freedom to play craps or blackjack, to feed tokens into a slot machine, or to engage in any other game of chance. But the Governor of Nevada apparently has different priorities.”
Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas accused Nevada of “discriminating against religion.” He went on to specifically criticize Roberts: “Justice Roberts once again got it wrong, shamefully closing church doors to their flocks.” Cotton also suggested there had been a shift in Roberts’ positions since his confirmation hearing, asking on Twitter, “What happened to that judge?”
Trump also expressed surprise at the decision but only made a brief comment on Twitter and did not specifically mention Roberts. “Wow,” he wrote. “Win in 2020!!!”
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee joined the chorus of anti-Roberts voices on Twitter, characterizing Roberts as “swamp-infected” because “he protects casinos & punishes places of worship.” He then went on to say that Roberts should “retire,” although “first he just needs to repent!”
Charlie Kirk, a conservative activist who founded Turning Point USA and is a big fan of Trump, called Roberts a “national disgrace” and a “disgrace to ‘conservatism.’ ” Talk-show host Steve Deace said Roberts “should be impeached” and for good measure called former President George W. Bush, who nominated Roberts to the top court, “one of the worst presidents of all time.” Dan Bongino, another talk show host, said Roberts “is at war with the Constitution” while Mark Levin called the decision “another John Roberts disgrace.”
The anger at Roberts expressed on social media Saturday morning marks the latest chapter of how conservatives have been attacking the chief justice in light of his recent decisions, including striking down a restrictive abortion law in Louisiana. Trump’s campaign is trying to fuel that anger to motivate conservative voters who may be disenchanted with the president to support his reelection campaign. Some have doubts about whether that can amount to a winning strategy.
For more of Slate’s news coverage, subscribe to What Next on Apple Podcasts or listen below.