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Why Roberts Switched

© Robert Ariail

One surprise around the Supreme Court decision upholding ObamaCare is that it was Chief Justice John Roberts who cast the deciding vote, siding with the Liberals on the court instead of the Conservatives.

Ironically, the reason he did this is a severe indictment of the conservatives, not just on the Supreme Court, but in general. Initially, Roberts was willing to declare the individual mandate unconstitutional and throw it out, but the conservative justices insisted that the court throw out the entire law. Roberts couldn’t see any justification for that (indeed, I’m not even sure what it could be). In the end, it was the conservative justices’ unwillingness to compromise, even a little, that lost Roberts and led him to find a way to justify the individual mandate as constitutional by treating it as a tax instead of a regulation of interstate business under the Commerce Clause.

This is what happens when ideology trumps reality.



  1. Michael wrote:

    I’ve heard another theory floating around, too, that should be a little alarming for progressives. It’s well known that Roberts is concerned about the perceived legitimacy of the Court. As the Court will be addressing such hot-button issues as affirmative action and marriage equality in the next couple of sessions, Roberts was concerned that ruling against the liberal side every time (especially after Bush v. Gore and Citizen’s United) would cement the Court’s reputation as a wing of the GOP. As such, his vote on health care (which he was rather neutral on) was basically throwing a bone to liberals as preemptive PR. Another theory is that Roberts is very alarmed by the increasingly heated rhetoric coming from Scalia and is looking to bring the Court back to the middle.

    I don’t know how much of this is true and how much is rumors, but it seems that there is more office politics in the Court than people realize.

    Tuesday, July 3, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Permalink
  2. Patricia wrote:

    I have been concerned that the ruling was merely a rallying cry for the right to be energized for the election. Sadly, we all we can do is “arm-chair quarterback” on this stuff!

    Tuesday, July 3, 2012 at 1:38 pm | Permalink
  3. Iron Knee wrote:

    Patricia, many people (including me) thought that upholding ObamaCare would energize the Republican base and be bad for Obama, but surveys are showing that isn’t necessarily the case. Most voters are saying the matter is settled and want to move on. Of course, both parties are getting huge fundraising bumps because of it.

    I think the main problem is that Romney is not in a position to argue against ObamaCare.

    Tuesday, July 3, 2012 at 8:18 pm | Permalink
  4. Arthanyel wrote:

    As Chief Justice, Roberts has to be aware of and somewhat sensitive to not only the specifics of the laws it also the impact the rulings have on the country and the legitimacy of the Supreme Court. Some very hush hush rumors from my legal connections suggest that IK’s point is basically spot on – if the Court ruled the way Scalia wanted, it would irrepairably damage the Judicial Branch and the Supreme Court’s legitimacy, and Roberts realized the ramifications were too great to risk for something that can legislatively addressed.

    Roberts was also very careful to shoot the rapids of the decision and find it constitutional without expanding the federal governments powers, and reaffirming the states sovereignty in key matters.

    Finally To Michael’s point – ruling the entire law, and the individual mandate, unconstitutional would also have opened a huge can of legal worms, and preempted some of things conservatives would like to do if they were fully in charge. Roberts probably saw that too and decided to set as minimal a precedent as possible to leave the door open for future rulings on things conservatives want.

    Wednesday, July 4, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Permalink