The problem with such accusations is that they are difficult to prove – or disprove. Even worse, if the perception spreads that the chief justice is susceptible to outside pressure, the court will likely come under even more pressure and criticism in future cases – even if the perception is untrue.
Liberal columnists who favor the health-care law are praising Roberts for supposedly rising above conservative politics to give the case fair adjudication. The chief justice exemplified a kind of noble leadership, intent on keeping the court above any taint of politics, they suggest.
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.
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.