In the days since the ruling, it’s quickly become conventional wisdom that Chief Justice John Roberts “switched” his vote to rescue Obamacare, even though his rationale for doing so — that the mandate to buy health insurance was constitutional if considered a tax on those who didn’t comply — was stated by Roberts during oral arguments in March, and was reported at the time.
This fact is generally glossed over, though, amid the stream of accusations from conservatives that Chief Justice Roberts buckled under pressure from liberals to reverse his intended vote. What liberals, you ask? Well, this is the fun part. I surveyed the literature on this subject, such as it is, and the complaints consistently cite only two examples: a speech in the Senate by Patrick Leahy of Vermont in mid-May, and an article in the New Republic by Jeffrey Rosen two weeks earlier.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we really rolled out the big guns on this one.
So, given that this is hardly the kind of withering assault that the right-wingers are painting it as, what’s really going on? If you guessed that the general rule about conservative projection — that they invariably accuse the left of exactly what they’re doing themselves — applies here, you’re probably right. The much-hyped liberal “pressure” cited above was easily outshouted by the conservative echo chamber complaining about it (in the National Review, Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, multiple columnists on the Washington Post op-ed pages, and so on).
Moreover, you might notice that all of this whining emerged at the same time, in the week around Memorial Day. It’s quite plausible that, as Linda Greenhouse of the New York Times suggests, key conservatives (apparently including Ramesh Ponnuru of the National Review) were tipped off that the ACA decision wasn’t going their way after all… and so they decided to fire up the mighty Wurlitzer in a last-ditch effort to pressure Roberts themselves.
But apparently, that’s nothing compared to what was going on inside the Court itself. The CBS News report by Jan Crawford last Sunday contains a detailed, if somewhat gossipy, account of intense peer pressure being applied to Roberts by the four right-wing justices who ultimately dissented from the chief justice’s opinion, culminating in this act of petulance:
The conservatives refused to join any aspect of his opinion, including sections with which they agreed, such as his analysis imposing limits on Congress’ power under the Commerce Clause, the sources said.
Instead, the four joined forces and crafted a highly unusual, unsigned joint dissent. They deliberately ignored Roberts’ decision, the sources said, as if they were no longer even willing to engage with him in debate.
No word as to whether they also stamped their feet and threatened to hold their breath until they turned blue. But it’s not hard to figure that part of their pressure campaign was leaking to GOP-friendly media that Obamacare might survive — and, in classic right-wing fashion, attempting to accuse their opponents of improperly influencing the vote.