A new book details how Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the liberal wing of the court to uphold President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul and says Justice Antonin Scalia was “enraged” at him for doing so.
CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin’s “The Oath: The Obama White House and the Supreme Court” says the other four conservative justices on the court wanted to “kill off the entire health care law,” alienating Roberts who sought out a “middle ground,” according to excerpts of the book published Saturday by Politico.
A lifelong Republican, Roberts originally intended to vote to overturn the law, but it became apparent to the other justices in April and May that he was going “wobbly,” Toobin wrote:
“The four conservatives had overplayed their hand with the chief justice. By demanding that Roberts kill off the entire health care law, they prompted him to look for some kind of middle ground. … [Justice Antonin ] Scalia was enraged at the chief.”
“Wobbly,” incidentally, is the same word sources used to describe Roberts in a major CBS News story published just days after the court announced its decision.
Part of the reason for Roberts’ switch, according to Toobin, is that he had two goals for his tenure as chief: “to push his own ideological agenda but also to preserve the court’s place as a respected final arbiter of the nation’s disputes.”
A complete nullification of the health care law on the eve of a presidential election would put the Court at the center of the campaign … Democrats, and perhaps Obama himself, would crusade against the Court, eroding its moral if not its legal authority. … Gradually, then with more urgency, Roberts began looking for a way out. …
Despite conservative outrage over Roberts’ vote, Toobin said his opinion “is a potentially significant long-term gain” for the movement.:
[F]or Roberts personally and the conservative cause generally, his vote and opinion in the health care case were acts of strategic genius. … Roberts at a minimum laid down a marker on the scope of the commerce clause. … Roberts’s opinion is potentially a significant long-term gain for the conservative movement. … Roberts bought enormous political space for himself for future rulings. … Did Roberts, by his late switch in the health care case, poison his relations with his conservative allies on the Court? That is very unlikely.”
Scalia told CNN’s Piers Morgan in an interview over the summer there was no truth to reports that relationships between the justices had strained over the decision, saying, “No, I haven’t had a falling out with Justice Roberts.”
“The Oath: The Obama White House and the Supreme Court” is due out on Tuesday.