Report: John Roberts switched vote on health care

By David Jackson, USA TODAY

The decision by Chief Justice John Roberts to uphold President Obama's health care law will be studied for years -- and now details are emerging from the normally leak-proof Supreme Court itself.

Jan Crawford of CBS News, citing "two sources with specific knowledge of the deliberations," reports that Roberts indeed switched his vote after siding with four other conservative justices who supported striking down the law.

"Roberts then withstood a month-long, desperate campaign to bring him back to his original position, the sources said," reports Crawford.

The dispute among the conservative justices revolved around the so-called individual mandate, the requirement that nearly all Americans buy some form of health insurance or pay a fine.

Roberts wanted to strike down the mandate -- calling it an overreach of Congress' power to regulate interstate commerce -- but maintain other parts of the health care law.

The four other conservatives -- Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito -- argued that if the mandate fell, the whole law would have to fall as well.

Rather than strike down the whole law, Roberts -- in an alliance with the court's four more liberal members -- crafted his own opinion, upholding the law and the mandate under Congress' taxing authority. That position was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stepehen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan (the latter two being Obama appointees).

The CBS story is generating quite a bit of buzz, not least of which revolves around the possible identities of Crawford's sources.

While she has been on presidential campaign duty in recent months, Crawford covered the court for years and maintains very good sources. You can't help but wonder if some of the justices themselves are talking about Roberts' actions.

Crawford writes on the pressure that conservative justices applied to Roberts:

Ironically, Justice Anthony Kennedy -- believed by many conservatives to be the justice most likely to defect and vote for the law -- led the effort to try to bring Roberts back to the fold.

"He was relentless," one source said of Kennedy's efforts. "He was very engaged in this."

But this time, Roberts held firm. And so the conservatives handed him their own message which, as one justice put it, essentially translated into, "you're on your own."

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.


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