Chief Justice John Roberts originally planned to vote with the Supreme Court’s conservative bloc to strike down the Affordable Care Act, but later changed his vote to uphold the law, according to a report by CBS News.
The report confirms rampant speculation that Roberts switched to uphold the law, and gives insight into the deliberations that led the Supreme Court to uphold Obamacare with a 5-4 ruling in National Federation of Independent Businesses v. Sebelius.
According to the report, Roberts’ change was met by a month-long lobbying effort from Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, who tried to get the Chief Justice to reverse his decision and join Kennedy and Associate Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas in striking down the law.
“[Kennedy] was relentless,” said one source according to the report. “He was very engaged in this.”
After it became clear that Roberts would not rejoin the minority, the four conservative justices then put together an unusual, unsigned joint defense, which an animated Kennedy read from the bench on Thursday.
The report suggests that Roberts’ decision to change his position was based, in part, on coverage of the case:
Roberts pays attention to media coverage. As Chief Justice, he is keenly aware of his leadership role on the Court, and he also is sensitive to how the Court is perceived by the public.
There were countless news articles in May warning of damage to the Court – and to Roberts’ reputation – if the Court were to strike down the mandate. Leading politicians, including the President himself, had expressed confidence the mandate would be upheld.
Some even suggested that if Roberts struck down the mandate, it would prove he had been deceitful during his confirmation hearings, when he explained a philosophy of judicial restraint.
It was around this time that it also became clear to the conservative justices that Roberts was, as one put it, “wobbly,” the sources said.
While it’s impossible to know exactly what led Roberts to change his mind, it appears his decision was based in part on a fear of making the court appear even more partisan. The Roberts court has been under fire for its fealty to business interests and for its decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which struck down limits on the amount of money corporations can spend to back political candidates.
Whatever the case, it is highly unlikely that any of the conspiracy theories surrounding Roberts’ vote change have a grounding in fact. Conservative opponents of the ACA have suggested any number of reasons why the usually-reliable Roberts might have switched sides, including writers who speculated that Roberts’ family had been threatened by Barack Obama.
Image Credit: Amanda Bossard, Medill News Service