The John G. Roberts Umpire Watch:
Is Chief Justice John Roberts an "umpire," a "servant of the law" who merely "applies the law" rather than "makes the law" to his personal preferences? Or is he a political conservative who will always vote for the conservative cause in an ideologically-charged case? In his confirmation hearings, Roberts expressed hope that he would be an umpire. In his cases Last Term, however, Roberts tended to vote consistently for the conservative side.

  In light of the uncertainty, I propose a new feature here at the Volokh Conspiracy: The John G. Roberts Umpire Watch. When a new decision comes down, we'll make a judgment call about whether it was one of the Court's ideologically-charged cases. (This will require umpire-like judgment, perhaps, but I think we can probably identify most of the cases relatively straighforwardly based on how most of the Justices voted.) If it was, then we'll classify Roberts' vote as either politically conservative or politically liberal.

  Then, at the end of the Term, we'll tally up the numbers. If we see votes on both sides, it will support the case that Roberts is an "umpire." Someone truly following principle will go wherever that principle will take him, and that should led to mixed views from a political standpoint. On the other hand, if all the votes end up being conservative, that will support the notion that Roberts is voting to make the law to shape his personal preferences rather than merely following it.

  I should add: Yes, of course, this kind of vote-tallying is imperfect. There are some circumstances in which a neutral umpire would always vote a particular way. I'm reminded of the pro se appellant who argued that the trial judge was obviously biased: after all, the judge had denied 100% of his motions! Still, I think that's less likely given the wide mix of cases the court hears. Even if a particular legal principle has a political valence, the mix of cases on the Court's docket is so diverse that few principles explain more than one or two votes. Given that, I think the tally should give us interesting insights into how Chief Justice Roberts approaches his job.