John Roberts has officially fallen from grace.
For ten years, the 60-year-old chief justice of the nation’s highest court was considered a conservative darling, consistently advancing the right’s agenda with major rulings on issues such as campaign finance, religious freedom, reproductive rights, guns, and race.
But this term has seen a remarkable shift to the left for the Roberts court. And for many conservatives, the chief justice’s decision on Thursday to side with the liberal wing in upholding a key provision of the Affordable Care Act – for the second time – marked the ultimate act of betrayal.
“With today’s Obamacare decision, John Roberts confirms that he has completely jettisoned all pretense of textualism,” wrote the National Review’s Quin Hillyer, referring to a legal philosophy favored among conservative judges. “He is a results-oriented judge, period, ruling on big cases based on what he thinks the policy result should be or what the political stakes are for the court itself. He is a disgrace. That is all.”
Appearing on “America’s Newsroom,” Fox News senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano went on a similar rant against Roberts, saying he had “resorted to a nearly unheard of construction in order to save the statute,” and undermined “his own credibility as a fair-minded jurist.”
Others turned to pure name-calling to express their frustration.
“Shocker, scumbag Roberts who said Obamacare was a tax, also defends it against the way law written,” tweeted Media Research Center’s Dan Gainor. “Roberts was an awful pick.”
And over at The Blaze, Wayne Allyn Root was so confused by Roberts’ action that he questioned whether the chief justice had been “blackmailed or intimidated” by the Obama administration.
“Like me, Justice Roberts is a lifelong dedicated conservative warrior,” wrote Root. “Justice Roberts was born, raised and groomed for one job in this life – to join that Supreme Court, strike down Obamacare, protect the Constitution and end big government overreach. Yet he is the man responsible for saving Obamacare – twice.”
It’s not the first time Roberts has attracted the wrath of the right. Back in 2012, after Roberts wrote the majority opinion upholding the individual mandate portion of the Affordable Care Act, conservative shock jock Michael Savage suggested the ruling may have been the result of Roberts’ epilepsy medication – which, Savage said, “can introduce mental slowing, forgetfulness and other cognitive problems.” (Roberts has suffered two seizures in his life, but has never confirmed whether or not he has epilepsy.)
This round of outrage, however, appears even more intense. For Roberts to abandon conservatives and save Obamacare once may have been a fluke; for him to do it twice seemed to many an act of aggression.
“I would expect people to be bitterly disappointed with Roberts,” Curt Levey of the Committee for Justice told Politico. “You can try to explain that away one time — people did try to explain it by saying he was intimidated … but it’s hard to see that happening twice.”
Republican presidential hopefuls, too, joined in on the decision dog pile, though none directed their criticisms directly at Roberts. In fact, some GOP strategists argued that a ruling against Obamacare might have been worse, politically speaking, in that it would have left a number of Republican candidates dealing with hiked premiums and lost coverage during an election year. In a way, Roberts may still be a friend to conservatives after all.