This week proved U.S. Supreme Court decisions can cross political lines

The U.S. Supreme Court has been portrayed as not just a legal battleground, but a political battleground as well. People often talk about the Court's five conservative and four liberal Justices as a clear-cut political divide. 

Two cases this week, however, came as a surprise to some who did not expect conservative Justices to side with the court's more liberal bloc on DACA and workplace protections for LGBTQ employees. 

"There's no doubt that many Supreme Court cases can be understood just by looking at ideology and the political makeup of the Court. But what we've seen this week is that doesn't always work," said Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean and Professor of Law at U.C. Berkeley School of Law.

On Thursday, Chief Justice John Roberts, a conservative, joined Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan. The 5-4 decision ruled against the Trump administration, saying it did not follow appropriate measures in its attempt to dismantle the Obama-era Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals program, which provides protection from deportation for some 700,000 undocumented youth who were brought into the U.S. as children.

President Trump accused the court of playing politics and siding against him. 

In a tweet, the President wrote "Do you get the impression the Supreme Court doesn't like me?"

Another tweet by the President stated, "The recent Supreme Court decisions not only on DACA, Sanctuary Cities, Census, and others, tell you only one thing, we need new justices of the Supreme Court." 

The President has appointed two of the five conservative justices, Neil Gorsuch and Bret Kavanaugh. 

Gorsuch, his first pick, joined fellow conservative Chief Justice Roberts and the liberal bloc in a 6-3 decision Monday stating that LGBTQ workers are protected from discrimination. Justices Alito, Thomas and Kavanagh dissented.

Gorsuch was the one who wrote the majority opinion.

Gorsuch overall is a very conservative justice," said Chemerinsky, "What's interesting is Gorsuch believes that statutes should be interpreted based on their plain language. And what Gorsuch says is prohibition of discrimination based on sex, includes prohibition of discrimination based on sexual orientation." 

In Thursday's DACA case, it was the conservative Chief Justice who wrote the opinion.

"The majority opinion was written by John Roberts. John Roberts, a lifelong Republican... was appointed to the Supreme Court by George W. Bush," says Chemerinsky, noting that the record shows Roberts has crossed over in the past, when he joined liberals to uphold the Affordable Care Act during the Obama era.

"John Roberts is a conservative. But he's not an ideologue and if he believes the law leads to a certain result, he'll go there, even if it it's not particularly conservative," says Chemerinsky.

Some have questioned whether Roberts is similar to another conservative, former Justice Anthony Kennedy, a Reagan appointee who often sided with liberals.

Chemerinsky says Roberts has a much more conservative record.

"He is the Justice who wrote the opinion gutting key provisions of the Voting Rights Act," said Chemerinsky, "He dissented when the Supreme Court said gays and lesbians have the right to marry. He's never voted to strike down any restriction on abortion."  

"What it says is at a time when society is so deeply polarized ideologically, we have an institution that at least some of the times can transcend that," said Chemerinsky. 

President Trump said in a tweet he plans to make a list of potential conservative candidates for the Supreme Court by September 1st and fill any future Court vacancies with someone on the list. 

Jana Katsuyama is a reporter for KTVU.  Email Jana at and follow her on Twitter