U.S. Supreme Court

Did Roberts Aim to Preserve Faith in Court? For First Time, He Sided with Liberals in 5-4 Split


A chart chronicling swing voting by Supreme Court justices illustrates why so many were surprised when Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. upheld the Obama administration’s health care law on Thursday.

According to the New York Times chart, the health care decision was the first time that Roberts joined with liberals in a 5-4 vote since he joined the court in 2005. During that time, the court has issued 30 decisions in which a conservative justice joined with liberals in a 5-4 vote.

The big swing voter was Anthony M. Kennedy, who joined with liberals 25 times in 5-4 votes since 2005. Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia joined with liberals in swing votes two times apiece. Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. had no swing votes to the liberal side.

Stories by The Caucus blog of the New York Times and the National Law Journal consider whether Roberts was aiming to build faith in the court when he upheld the health care law. “He was clearly aware of his place in history,” Fordham law professor Abner Greene told the NLJ. “Striking down the entire law could have been a black mark on this court.”

The New York Times, the Washington Post and Reuters have stories on Roberts’ views of the court’s role and how they played out in the health law decision. According to Reuters, Roberts “followed a stated principle of his own: narrowly deciding cases and trying to preserve the integrity of the judiciary in polarized Washington.”

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