WASHINGTON -- Meet Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts: The most hated Republican in Washington. Roberts' decision to side once again with the court's liberals and keep the Affordable Care Act intact has prompted outrage from the GOP -- including calls from some quarters for his removal from the bench.
Roberts authored the 6-3 decision, released Thursday morning, that declined to strike down the ACA’s subsidies for people purchasing health insurance in states with exchanges run by the federal government. It’s the latest injury after he sided with the four liberals in 2012 in the 5-4 decision that turned back a bid to overturn the law in its entirety. He authored that decision as well. And he might not be done making conservatives unhappy for the week. The court will rule -- either Friday or Monday -- on whether to declare same-sex marriage a right nationwide, and some court-watchers think Roberts could side with the liberal justices in order to write the opinion, which in turn he could tailor to be very narrow.
The conservative court-watchers Freedom Watch wasted no time in suggesting that Roberts and the other five justices who ruled in favor of the administration on Obamacare should be bounced from the bench. “To preserve the Republic in its last gasps, Congress must impeach these justices,” Freedom Watch founder Larry Klayman, a conservative attorney, said in a statement. “The U.S. Constitution provides in Article III, Section 1, that ‘The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behavior.’ It does not give judges a term for life, but only ‘during good Behavior.’”
Klayman added, “These six justices have violated their own long-established rules of interpretation for applying statutes to instead advance their own political objectives or burnish their public persona. Such personal goals corrode the role of the court. The justices abandoned the rule of law and have become merely a political focus group.”
Republicans had been hoping that Roberts -- who endured an onslaught of criticism after the ACA 2012 decision -- would reverse course this time. “I was profoundly disappointed and surprised with his vote the first time around with the challenge to Obamacare,” said Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz. “I’d like to say that I halfway expected him to do the same thing again. But I didn’t. I really expected him to try to reconcile something that I think he made a mistake on the last time. So I’m very disappointed.”
“I don’t know that you can label the guy in any way, shape or form right now,” Salmon said, when asked if Roberts should be considered a conservative judge.
Roberts hasn’t always been the enemy of the Washington Republicans. He was nominated by President George W. Bush in 2005, first to sit on the court as an associate justice and then, while his nomination was still pending, to be the chief justice after Chief Justice William Rehnquist died. His nomination was approved by the Senate with all Republicans backing him and about half of the Democrats.
And Roberts at the time received praise from Republicans who now may be less than thrilled with his decision. Before he was a justice, Roberts advised then-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush during the 2000 Florida recount -- which the now-2016 presidential candidate said he did not get involved with because his brother’s election was being decided. Bush, when Roberts was nominated, praised him as a “man of integrity” and an “outstanding jurist,” the Associated Press reported at the time. The Orlando Sentinel quoted the governor saying his legal team sought out Roberts at the time because he was “one of the brighter lawyers on constitutional issues.”
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz -- then a legal adviser to George W. Bush’s campaign -- explained that Roberts was included in the legal team that he was tasked with compiling. “In the process of those discussions, John's name naturally came up quite early since he is universally acknowledged as one of the very best Supreme Court litigators in the nation,” Cruz said in 2005, according to the Associated Press.
On Thursday, Cruz didn’t have such kind words for Roberts. “Today’s decision in King v. Burwell is judicial activism, plain and simple,” he said after the decision. “For nakedly political reasons, the Supreme Court willfully ignored the words that Congress wrote, and instead read into the law their preferred policy outcome. These judges have joined with President Obama in harming millions of Americans. Unelected judges have once again become legislators, and bad ones at that. They are lawless, and they hide their prevarication in legalese. Our government was designed to be one of laws, not of men, and this transparent distortion is disgraceful.”