Chief Justice John Roberts joined the left side of the Supreme Court to uphold the vast majority of ObamaCare, including the individual mandate — much to the chagrin of conservatives across the country.
When President George W. Bush nominated Roberts in 2005, the center-right expected him to be a reliably conservative voice on the nation’s highest court.
“[Roberts is] a person who understands what it means to be a strict constructionist — somebody who looks at the words of the Constitution for what they are, somebody who will not legislate from the bench,” Bush said after nominating Roberts in 2005.
With Thursday’s ruling, conservatives are questioning — and some even denying — Roberts’ conservatism on the court.
“[We have] absolutely no confidence in Chief Justice Roberts as a conservative justice,” Young America’s Foundation spokesman Ron Meyer told The Daily Caller.
“Our Constitution is dead,” he added, “and we can thank our chief justice for that.”
Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist explained to TheDC that back in 2005, he thought Roberts’ would apply the law like a “strict-constructionist,” “Reagan Republican,”
Norquist was stunned by the decision.
“I’m not a lawyer. However, there are some very smart lawyers — like, four of them — who saw things differently,” he said, referring to the four justices who voted against the law. “And at some point you have to wonder: Four, you know, center-of-right Reagan-Republican judges all saw it one way, and he saw it the other. He has to be asking himself, ‘Oh look, everybody except Johnny is out of step marching out there.’ Well, maybe Johnny’s out of step.”
Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton added that Roberts’ decision is just another piece of a puzzle, revealing the justice to be more focused on politics than the law.
“His opinions on the Obamacare mandate and the Arizona immigration issue are political, and not conservative,” Fitton told TheDC. “He’s acting more and more like the typical conservative politician and can’t be relied on to do the right thing all the time.”
Peter Ferrara, senior fellow for entitlement and budget policy at the Heartland Institute, explained that Roberts was intimidated to preserve the Roberts court legacy.
“He abandoned the rule of law for political considerations,” Ferrara said. “In my opinion, he was intimidated by how the so-called Roberts court would be caricatured in history.”
Ferrara continued that if he could, he would vote to remove Roberts from the court, as according to Ferrara, he has not been faithful to what he said during his confirmation — and is instead acting with political considerations in mind.
“It’s clear Roberts is not the humble, yet brave, principled constitutionalist we thought him to be,” added Richard Viguerie, chairman of ConservativeHQ.com.
During a Thursday National Federation of Independent Business conference call, Stephen Presser, professor of legal history at Northwestern University, added that his perception of Roberts as a conservative has also “diminished.”
“My faith in Chief Justice Roberts is certainly a little bit diminished after this, and I see him as an actor trying to keep the court out of politics — not that he can — and maybe that’s not a bad thing. But this was a case where I thought there really was a need for a firm statement from the court saying that Congress’ powers — because of the 10th Amendment — are limited, and if it can do this it can do anything and the 10th Amendment becomes something of a dead letter.”
Still, others were not surprised.
Competitive Enterprise Institute senior counsel Hans Bader said that he never thought Roberts was a “conservative justice,” but a moderate susceptible to “the peer pressure of being in a largely-liberal milieu.”
“Lawyers are a liberal bunch, much more Democratic-leaning than the general public (the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy once noted that Clinton beat Bush by nearly two-to-one among lawyers, despite winning by only several points among the general public),” Bader wrote in an email to TheDC. “And even so-called ‘conservative’ justices are products of the liberal legal community.”
Center for Individual Rights’ general counsel Michael Rosman added that while he had not finished reading the ruling, it appeared to him that Roberts was attempting to please all sides of the issue with his opinion.
“It’s probably a politically astute opinion,” Rosman told TheDC. “Whether it’s a great constitutional law opinion I guess will be determined over the course of time.”
Rosman said, however, that he still sees Roberts as a conservative.
Likewise, FreedomWorks’ Vice President Dean Clancy told TheDC that he was not ready to make a call on Roberts’ conservatism, but noted that his group is disappointed by the decision.
American Conservative Union Chairman Al Cardenas was hesitant to pass quick judgement, but also disappointed.
“The scorecard needs to get a little richer before drawing definitive conclusions as to whether the Chief Justice Roberts will be remembered as a conservative jurist,” Cardenas told TheDC, “but this opinion is both disconcerting and alarming — not so much because of its conclusions but because to get there required a lot of ‘activism’ by him, which is a trait we had not thought was part of his judicial philosophy when vetted by the Senate.”
RedState Editor Erick Erickson cautioned his readers not to get too down on Roberts, arguing that Roberts was attempting to keep the court out of the “partisan fray” to preserve its legacy and that his decision forces the nation to deal with the issue politically — not legally.
“John Roberts is playing at a different game than the rest of us. We’re on poker. He’s on chess,” Erickson wrote, going on to add that the decision will benefit presumptive Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
“With John Roberts’ opinion, the repeal fight takes place on GOP turf, not Democrat turf. The all or nothing repeal has always been better ground for the GOP and now John Roberts has forced everyone onto that ground,” he continued. “It seems very, very clear to me in reviewing John Roberts’ decision that he is playing a much longer game than us and can afford to with a life tenure. And he probably just handed Mitt Romney the White House.”
Back in 2005, conservative commentator and lawyer Ann Coulter cautioned conservatives to not get overly excited about Roberts’ nomination, calling him a “Souter in Roberts Clothing.” Coulter argued that the country did not know enough about Roberts to make an assessment and that getting so-called “stealth nominees” on the court never benefits conservatives.
When asked to comment further in light of the recent Obamacare decision, Coulter responded in an email: “always trust coulter.”
A number of groups declined to comment about Roberts, including the Club for Growth, Americans for Prosperity, American Crossroads, Let Freedom Ring, Heritage Action and the Republican Study Committee, citing prematurity or lack of legal expertise.
Melissa Quinn contributed to this report.