Chief Justice Roberts defends Supreme Court's legitimacy post-Roe, announces reopening

“I think just moving forward from things that were unfortunate is the best way to respond to it," the chief justice said of recent controversy and criticism of the court, according to a media report.

John Fritze
USA TODAY
  • Roberts said the Supreme Court can't let public opinion guide its decision-making.
  • Roberts said when the Supreme Court returns to work the public "will be there to watch us."
  • The chief justice also said seeing the high court surrounded by barricades had been "gut-wrenching."

WASHINGTON – More than two years after COVID-19 forced the Supreme Court to conduct much of its work remotely, Chief Justice John Roberts announced that the ornate courtroom will reopen to the public when its new term starts next month.

Roberts, speaking at conference in Colorado on Friday night, also defended the court's legitimacy, according to media reports. The justices have faced criticism on the left and protests for the decision in June to overturn Roe v. Wade and end the constitutional right to abortion established by that decision in 1973. 

Roberts said that all of the court's opinions are open to criticism, but he said that "simply because people disagree with opinions, is not a basis for questioning the legitimacy of the court," according to CNN.    

"The court has always decided controversial cases and decisions always have been subject to intense criticism and that is entirely appropriate,” Roberts told a gathering of judges in Colorado Springs, according to The Washington Post.

“You don’t want the political branches telling you what the law is. And you don’t want public opinion to be the guide of what the appropriate decision is,” said Roberts, according to the Post.

The U.S. Supreme Court building on September 06, 2022.

The high court switched to a virtual argument format in early 2020 for the first time in its history as the coronavirus pandemic began closing down in-person meetings at businesses, schools and government buildings. Last year, the high court held arguments in person but the court building itself remained closed to the public

A handful of journalists, law clerks and court staff were in the courtroom along with the justices and lawyers.

The move was the latest step in a gradual reopening of the nation's highest court, which in addition to being closed to the public was walled off by a large fence in the aftermath of the decision to overturn Roe v. Wade – a ruling that sparked large protests at the court and at some of the justices'  homes over the summer.

The fence was removed in August

Roberts told the conference on Friday that it was "gut-wrenching" to arrive at the court every morning with barricades surrounding it, according to the Post. He said that when the justices return in October, "the public will be there to watch us.”

“I think just moving forward from things that were unfortunate is the best way to respond to it," Roberts also said, according to the Post.

After a historic term that saw the overturning of Roe, an expansion of gun rights under the Second Amendment and a redrawing of the line separating church and state, the justices will return and will hear oral arguments beginning on Oct. 3. The term will feature a major challenge to affirmative action, two cases that could affect elections and a lawsuit by a businesswoman who wants to deny her services for same-sex weddings.