Through the end of the term that ended in June, the Roberts court has overruled precedents at the lowest rate, at 1.6 per term. But it has picked up the pace since the arrival in 2017 of the first of three justices appointed by President Donald J. Trump. Since then, the rate has been 2.2 precedents per term, still the lowest of the four courts.
What distinguishes the Roberts court is ideology. In cases overruling precedents, the Warren court reached a liberal result 92 percent of the time. The Burger and Rehnquist courts reached liberal outcomes about half the time. The number dropped to 35 percent for the Roberts court. Since 2017, it has ticked down a bit, to 31 percent.
I can hear your objections. It must matter, for starters, whether the overrulings were important or trivial. Overturning Roe v. Wade is nothing like discarding cases on sovereign immunity or government takings of private property.
Political scientists measure the importance of decisions — they call it their salience — the same way some journalists do, by asking whether the decision was covered on the front page of The New York Times.
By that measure, the Warren court’s overrulings were especially salient, warranting front-page coverage 61 percent of the time. The corresponding number for the Burger court was just 28 percent. Front-page coverage of overrulings by the Rehnquist and Roberts courts were nearly identical, at 42 and 41 percent.