NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Justice Roberts Saves Flawed Obamacare

June 29, 2015

On June 25, the Supreme Court upheld health insurance subsidies in states that rely on the federal exchange. The 6-to-3 majority opinion was written by Chief Justice John Roberts. A National Journal headline proclaimed "John Roberts Saves Obamacare, Again," explaining "It's also the second time in three years Roberts has helped pull Obamacare back from the brink of disaster."

The outcome did not surprise those who have followed Chief Justice Roberts' recent voting record. In 2012, John Roberts sided with the majority ruling that the individual mandate, forcing people to buy insurance, was not justified under the Commerce Clause. However, conservatives were shocked that the Chief Justice voted with the liberal wing of the Court, ruling the individual mandate was indeed constitutional, because it is essentially a tax penalty, says NCPA senior fellow Devon Herrick. This followed the well-established precedent that the federal government has the power to tax socially-undesirable behaviors to discourage them.

Roberts made an unfortunate left turn back in 2012 and he has been careening to the left ever since. This past session he agreed less with his fellow Republican-appointed justices than with the Democratic-appointed justices.

The SCOTUS blog tracks justices' voting records, comparing their legal opinions with those of other Supreme Court justices. With the October 2014 term just ending, John Roberts' voting record has more in common with the liberal members of the Supreme Court than with the conservative wing. Justice Roberts agreed in full or in part with Justice Breyer 85 percent of the time, Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor 81 percent of the time and Justice Kagan 75 percent of the time. Compare this to Roberts' agreement with the conservative members. He agreed with Scalia 81 percent of the time, Kennedy and Alito 72 percent of the time and with Justice Thomas 61 percent.  These data do not include the King v. Burwell decision, so his record is actually a little worse than it appears here.

Source: Devon Herrick, "Justice Roberts Veers Left: Saves Obamacare Despite Its Flaws," Town Hall, June 27, 2015.

 

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