Over the holiday, my close friend and colleague at the Center for Individual Freedom, Ashton Ellis (who's also an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University's School of Public Policy), called my attention to a rather remarkable story, courtesy of Taegan Goddard's Wonk Wire. It turns out that at least one man wasn't terribly surprised by Chief Justice Roberts' ruling on the ObamaCare case: University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth political scientist Kenneth Manning.
The reason: Manning had actually crunched the numbers. Back in 2005, when Roberts was still every conservatives' favorite blank slate, Manning put his shoulder to the wheel and produced a paper (links to a PDF) synthesizing every one of the Chief-Justice-to-be's votes on the D.C. Court of Appeals and comparing them to the rest of the federal judiciary in order to get a sense of how Roberts' judicial philosophy played out in practice. His conclusion:
I find that Roberts is very conservative in his decision making in criminal justice disputes, and the data suggest that he is exceptionally conservative in civil liberties and rights cases (though the limited numbers of cases in this area restrict the ability to draw any firm conclusions). In labor and economic disputes, however, Judge Roberts has been more liberal than the appellate court average.
After the ObamaCare decision reignited the flame of conservative disappointment with Republican judicial nominees, it seems to me that we may soon be arriving at a place where the judicial "litmus test" becomes quite literal. There's a very real chance that analyses like this could become a standard part of the vetting process for the conservative base, desperate as it now is for assurances that, per The Who, we won't get fooled again.
Ironically, conservatives had to learn through experience with Chief Justice Roberts what we asserted the rest of the country should have known a priori when it came to President Obama: any man who presents himself for high office on the basis of little more than sweet nothings will tend to be a disappointment down the line. Any mechanism which acts as a brake on our credulity in such instances is to be welcomed.