John Roberts Isn’t Any ‘Liberal Hero,’ But He’s Still The Court’s Boldest Justice

john roberts

The U.S. Supreme Court’s chief justice John Roberts shocked the nation when he essentially saved Obamacare in June.

Political pundits immediately hailed the chief justice as a “liberal hero.”

Others pointed out Roberts still demolished President Obama’s rationale for an insurance mandate by ruling that it was basically a tax.

Slate’s Jeff Shesol commented that everybody had a “collective crush on John Roberts” but said that lionization wouldn’t actually hold up after you read his opinion.

Sure, maybe the Republican-appointed Roberts might have gotten a few subtle digs against Obama.

However, Roberts’ decision to anger his own party by upholding the heart of healthcare reform shows he’s much more of a consensus-builder than the chief he replaced, the late William Rehnquist.

A recent biography called Rehnquist a “brilliant loner who used the court to advance his right-wing agenda.”

Roberts, on the other hand, seems eager to avoid that kind of legacy.

In 2007, Roberts told the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Rosen that his ideal justice was Thurgood Marshall, who had a reputation for promoting collegiality on the court and discouraging justices from issuing separate opinions.

While the Obamacare opinion was indeed a split decision, Roberts still had to get several liberals on board with his decision to uphold the law as a tax and not a viable use of the government’s authority under the Commerce Cause of the Constitution.

By doing so, Roberts was able to save the court’s reputation and live up to promises he made during his confirmation hearings, UCLA law professor Adam Winkler wrote for the Huffington Post.

“Roberts’ decision was consistent with his confirmation hearings pledge to respect the co-equal branches of government, push for consensus, and reach narrow rulings designed to build broad coalitions on the court,” Winkler wrote.