Chief Justice John Roberts was an instrumental force behind a 2012 Supreme Court decision to protect Obamacare but shifted his opinions on several key components of the health care law behind the scenes in the months leading up to the monumental decision, according to an upcoming book about his life.
CNN’s Joan Biskupic detailed the backroom negotiations between Roberts and liberal members of the court in her new book, “The Chief,” which will be released later this month. In an excerpt posted on CNN’s website, Biskupic notes how Robert initially sided with the court’s conservative wing and voted in a private conference to strike down Obamacare’s individual mandate. The provision was a core part of the health care law that required Americans to purchase insurance or pay a penalty.
But over the next few weeks, Roberts’ thinking shifted, according to the account, and he began to construct an argument to present the individual mandate as a tax. He later sided with the court’s liberal justices to uphold the provision, provoking outrage from his fellow conservatives and right-leaning lawmakers across the country.
Viewed only through a judicial lens, his moves were not consistent, and his legal arguments were not entirely coherent. But he brought people and their different interests together. His moves may have been good for the country at a time of division and a real crisis in health care, even as they engendered, in the years since, anger, confusion and distrust. Criticism on the right ― from insiders and outsiders ― was swift.
CBS’ Jan Crawford first reported Roberts’ change of thinking in 2012, shortly after the decision was handed down. The latest excerpt adds more detail to his thinking and details the thinking of two liberal justices.
Biskupic’s book also points to the behind-the-scenes politics that takes place in the Supreme Court’s back rooms. Roberts initially voted to preserve Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion for people near the poverty line but reversed course and significantly weakened this provision. But his argument to treat the individual mandate as a tax would have negated his thinking behind the Medicaid expansion.
He spoke with liberal Justices Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer, who had also voted to uphold the Medicaid expansions, and both agreed to leave the program behind in order to support Roberts’ thinking behind the mandate.
Breyer and Kagan had voted in the private March conference to uphold the new Medicaid requirement, and their votes had been unequivocal. But they were pragmatists. If there was a chance that Roberts would cast the critical vote to uphold the central plank of Obamacare ― and negotiations in May were such that they still considered that a shaky proposition ― they were willing to meet him partway.
When Ginsburg found out about Roberts’ new position, her first thought was, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” She understood that the process could continue to be fluid, especially in such a monumental case.
Roberts’ decision allowed many Republican-governed states to avoid expanding Medicaid, leaving millions of poor residents without coverage. The fight to expand Medicaid, with health care for hundreds of thousands in the balance, continues to this day.
Read the full excerpt at CNN.