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Questions about chief justice's health-care ruling could have lasting impact

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Some conservatives were less charitable, branding Roberts a traitor. Although Roberts essentially agreed with the court’s conservative wing that the law was unconstitutional, he used his power as chief justice wielding a crucial fifth vote to ensure that the case was decided in a way that upheld the health-care reform law.

These conservative analysts, who oppose the health-care law, accuse Roberts of deliberately shaping his decision to mitigate an election-year political backlash against the Supreme Court – and Roberts himself.

Controversial report

Into this mix comes an intriguing CBS News report citing inside sources claiming that Roberts initially voted to strike down the health-care reform law but later changed his mind and switched sides to uphold it.

According to the report, Roberts abandoned his conservative colleagues and joined forces with the court’s liberal wing in what the report suggests was an effort to avoid partisan criticism of the Supreme Court.

The account, by CBS News Correspondent Jan Crawford, was based on two unnamed sources “with specific knowledge of the deliberations.”

Although the account suggested that concern about outside political pressure may have influenced Roberts’s switch, his precise motives are not identified.

“It is not known why Roberts changed his view on the mandate and decided to uphold the law,” the CBS report says.

The news report sparked a new round of criticism among conservative legal analysts.

“The fact that this decision was apparently political, rather than legal, completely undermines its legitimacy as a precedent,” said Randy Barnett, a professor at Georgetown University Law Center and one of the first legal scholars to raise questions about the constitutionality of the health-care reform law. 

“Its result can be reversed by the People in November,” he added in a statement, “and its weak tax power holding reversed by any future court without pause.”

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