Gavel Grab

Roberts in Spotlight; His Health Care Act Role Examined

Some analysts have rushed to commend Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., who stunned most observers by casting the deciding vote to uphold the core provision of the Affordable Care Act. Other analysts cautioned against premature adulation.

“Roberts Shows Deft Hand as Swing Vote on Health Care,” declared the headline for a New York Times analysis by Adam Liptak, who said the chief justice’s “defining and delicate role in upholding the health care law will always be associated with his tenure.”

Jeffrey Rosen, a George Washington University law professor, described “a dramatic vindication of the vision of bipartisanship that Chief Justice Roberts articulated at the start of his term,” according to a McClatchy newspapers article.

“With this deft ruling, Roberts avoided what was certain to be a cascade of criticism of the high court,” UCLA Law Professor Adam Winkler wrote in Huffington Post. “Had Obamacare been voided, it would have inevitably led to charges of aggressive judicial activism. Roberts peered over the abyss and decided he didn’t want to go there.”

But historian Jeff Shesol, author of a book about the Supreme Court and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, suggested putting the brakes on crediting Chief Justice Roberts for statesmanship and judicial modesty. His essay in Slate was entitled, “Why our crush on the chief justice is silly—and undeserved.”

“[Thursday’s] outcome, to be sure, is worth celebrating. But the lionization of John Roberts does not withstand a reading of his opinion,” Shesol wrote. He took strong issue with the chief justice’s lengthy denunciation of a commerce clause argument for the health care act’s so-called “individual mandate” provision at a moment that the argument was irrelevant; the court’s 5-4 ruling upheld the mandate on grounds it constituted a permissible tax.

Shesol added, “But Justice [Ruth Bader] Ginsburg and the court’s liberals, in their concurring opinion, make clear what is really happening here: The establishment of ‘a newly minted constitutional doctrine’—a sort of de facto, save-it-for-later majority opinion, effectively endorsed by the four dissenters.” The court majority opinion widely was interpreted as scaling back Congress’s commerce clause powers.

At Fortune, David Kaplan wrote a commentary headlined, “Chief Justice Roberts: Statesman? More like master politician: Through an act of supreme cunning, John Roberts accomplished his conservative doctrinal goals without paying any political cost by siding with the high court’s liberal wing in the health care ruling.”

“Chief Justice Roberts reframed the court and his tenure at its helm,” a Wall Street Journal article said. The court ruling, it said, delivered a victory to President Obama and “may also further conservative jurisprudence in the long run by setting new limits on congressional power.” On Friday, a New York Times analysis was entitled, “Conservatives See Silver Lining in Health Ruling.”

No comments

No comments yet. Be the first.

Leave a reply