Chief Justice John Roberts is a meme.
Oh, and a hero in some circles. And yes, even a sex symbol in others.
Roberts authored the opinion that upheld President Obama’s health-care law. He also convinced four other justices to come on board with him. Some called him an evil genius. Geek girls, who already secretly crushed on the 57-year-old Roberts, swooned even more especially if they swung to the left.
Then, John Roberts went viral. More than half of Americans didn’t know Roberts’ name before yesterday but thanks to social media, they do now. His picture was everywhere.
One meme – as all memes do – took inspiration from the wildly popular Ryan Gosling one that begins “Hey Girl.” Under a picture of a very serious Roberts, it says: “Hey Girl, I Heard You Wanted An Individual Mandate.” Another one said, “I don’t always swing left, but when I do it’s for the most important case in my generation.”
One meme borrowed the red and blue Shepard Fairey Obama art of 2008 with the word “Hope” and replaced Obama’s face with Roberts’.
The fact that many conservatives, and especially the tea party, are now against Roberts only makes him sexier to liberal women. Many see him as the savior of a health-care law that will not charge women higher premiums than men, among other things.
On Friday, at a federal court conference in Pennsylvania, Roberts joked that he will be spending time in “an impregnable fortress” this summer as well as teaching a course in Malta. Will Roberts’ groupies find a way to get to the European island? The course -- and any course he teaches from now on -- will likely be standing room only.
He may try to hide, but thanks to social media he is now a celebrity, and certainly the first chief justice to go viral. Remember how Hillary Clinton’s meme made her incredibly hip? Such celebrity was never, I suspected, envisioned by former Chief Justice John Marshall, who served from 1801 to 1835, or the Founding Fathers. For Roberts, memes have created what nobody succeeded in creating during his confirmation hearings.
In 2005, when President George W. Bush chose Roberts for the Supreme Court, the legal eagle assiduously avoided portraying himself as anything but bland. He was vanilla. He was middle of the road. He was not an extremist. Roberts was the perfect, non-controversial nominee. People didn’t love or hate him. He was as neutral as a nice pair of beige shoes.
Roberts, like the entire Supreme Court, is all the more fascinating because of how off-limits the nine men and women are to the general public. They are like superheros who live semi-sequestered, mysterious lives. Their work in the Supreme Court is not televised. We get glimpses of their work through courtroom sketches as if the modern world doesn't exist. The justices rarely, if ever, give interviews. They appear on legal panels or at law schools but stick to talking points. The general public knows very little about them.
The justices’ biographies on the Supreme Court Web site are equally mysterious as if they serve on some Justice League. Roberts’ bio states that he was born in Buffalo, New York. He is married and has two children. The rest is his legal CV. We have no inkling if he likes golf, badminton or quiet evenings at home in front of the fire.
After Thursday’s decision, Roberts, the Bush appointee chief justice, has been recast as a national hero to the left. The memes will continue. His role in history will deepen. We can only hope for an appearance on “The View.”
Suzi Parker is an Arkansas-based political and cultural journalist and author of “Sex in the South: Unbuckling the Bible Belt.” Follow her on Twitter at @SuziParker