Supreme Court Under Roberts: Polarized, Vague, Long-Winded


The Supreme Court under the leadership of Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. is often criticized for issuing sweeping and politically polarized decisions, notes Adam Liptak of the New York York Times. But there is an emerging parallel critique as well, this one concerned with the quality of the court's judicial craftsmanship. In decisions on questions great and small, the court often provides only limited or ambiguous guidance to lower courts. And it increasingly does so at enormous length.

Critics of the court's work are not primarily focused on the quality of the justices' writing, though it is often flabby and flat. Instead, they point to reasoning that fails to provide clear guidance to lower courts, sometimes seemingly driven by a desire for unanimity that can lead to fuzzy, unwieldy rulings. A decision in March concerning mutual fund fees was vague enough that both sides plausibly claimed victory. Writing for the court, Justice Samuel Alito Jr. told lower courts little more than that the law requires that “all relevant circumstances be taken into account” in deciding whether advisers' fee arrangements were proper. He acknowledged that this guidance “may lack sharp analytical clarity.”

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