Chief Justice Roberts getting hammered over Obamacare ruling

As expected, the Supreme Court’s 6-3 decision to uphold the Obama administration’s understanding of the Obamacare law and reject the plaintiff’s claims that only health exchanges set up by the state could be used to provide the federal tax subsidies that made health insurance affordable to many has created a furious reaction from the right-wingers who seem to have become almost unhinged (I compiled a list of some of the immediate reactions yesterday.) The vehemence may be partly explained by their overly optimistic expectations that they would win, since they had won in the Appeals Court.

Why were they so confident since most reasonable and knowledgeable observers felt that the result was up in the air and could go either way? The reason for that may be the same as why they were stunned when Mitt Romney lost. As Bruce Bartlett described, right-wingers have retreated into a closed universe where their ‘news’ (I use the word loosely) comes from Fox News and other similar sources that feed a steady diet of views masquerading as news that reinforce one particular viewpoint. In that world, Obamacare was a clearly unprecedented takeover of the health care industry and so manifestly evil that it must have seemed obvious to them that the Supreme Court would see it that way too.

I have been reading the reactions and it is interesting that though some have called for the impeachment of all six justices in the majority (see here and here), most of the ire has been reserved for chief justice Roberts. The four liberal justices (Kagan, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Ginsburg) are largely ignored, possibly because they have long been considered as so obviously treasonous that it was not worth venting against them. But justice Kennedy has largely escaped being singled out, even though he voted against Obamacare three years ago in which Robert joined with the four liberals to uphold the constitutionality of Obamacare.

The reason that Roberts has been targeted may be partly due to the fact that he wrote the majority opinion and that Kennedy, the so-called swing vote on the court, has always been seen as squishy and unreliable but Roberts was considered their man, a hardcore conservative who would vote their way. With Roberts, there is an almost palpable fury that comes from feelings of betrayal. This list of reactions from right-wing media sources compiled by Media Matters has to be read to be believed. Kaili Joy Gray has fun going through the list of Republican presidential candidates and cataloging their impotent fury. And there’s more.

Many are like Ted Cruz who once called Roberts “One of the best constitutional minds in the country”, but are now expressing buyer’s remorse and regret their enthusiastic support for Roberts when he was nominated and confirmed. Sahil Kapur has collected the anti-Roberts statements, many of whom sound like lovers who discovered that Roberts was having an affair with Obama.

What makes some people even more angry is that in its ruling, the court said that the validity of the federal exchange was not due to the IRS deciding administratively that it would grant federal tax subsidies to those covered by federal exchanges but that this was intended by the law itself. This makes repealing the provision harder. If it was an administrative decision, then a new president could simply reverse it. Now it requires a new law to be passed, a much bigger hurdle to overcome. As Brianne Good writes, it looks like Obamacare is here to stay.


  1. says

    I would also point you to this post by Ed Brayton where he states Roberts used to be part of the Federalist Society that has been trying to shift the courts to the right. The post also discusses how Roberts may be becoming more liberal in his views. That sense of betrayal is perhaps what has conservatives in a tizzy, noting that they have apparently made the Twitter hashtag “TRAITOR” quite trendy.

  2. says

    Correction: Wikipedia suggests that it is a incorrect that Roberts was a member of the Federalist Society:

    Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts was reported to have been a member of the Society, but Roberts’s membership status was never definitively established. Deputy White House press secretary Dana Perino said Roberts “has no recollection of ever being a member.” The Washington Post later located the Federalist Society Lawyers’ Division Leadership Directory, 1997–1998, which listed Roberts as a member of the Washington chapter steering committee. Membership in the Society is not a necessary condition for being listed in the leadership directory.

    So…maybe still a part of the Federalist Society, but not a member?

  3. Pierce R. Butler says

    The corporate wing in the Republican party preferred that “Obamacare” remain in place, so as not to produce bedlam and backlash that would reduce their prospects for 2016’s elections.

    Having a secure lifetime position, Roberts could afford to take the heat from the mouth-frothing hate-Obama-über-alles faction (many of whom, no doubt, privately share their corporate comrades’ concerns even as they rant) and still continue to function as a loyal party apparatchik.

    Unlike Scalia & Thomas, Roberts can somehow coordinate with the GOP’s upper strata without requiring private-jet flights to Palm Springs for coaching on his part of the script.

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