The biggest buzz from yesterday’s talk shows didn’t come from the politicians, but from CBS’ Jan Crawford and her report on bruised feelings at the Supreme Court in the wake of the decision to uphold ObamaCare. In a continuing series of leaks from behind perhaps the heretofore most secure institution in Washington, Crawford reports that conservatives on the court are “furious” with Chief Justice John Roberts over what they see as betrayal, and it’s not just the conservatives who are unhappy with Roberts, either:
Conservatives feel a sense of betrayal. They feel that Roberts changed his mind for the wrong reasons.
If Roberts had been with the liberals from the beginning, sources tell me that would have been one thing; but switching his position – and relatively late in the process – infuriated the conservatives. …
When he changed his mind and joined with the liberals to uphold the law instead, he tried furiously – with a fair amount of “arm twisting” – to get Justice Anthony Kennedy to come along. Kennedy sometimes breaks with conservatives, so Roberts likely saw him as his best hope.
But on this issue of federal power, Kennedy was firm. The conservatives refused to even engage with Roberts on joining his opinion to uphold the law. They set out writing their own opinion – they wrote it to look like a majority decision, according to sources, because they hoped Roberts would rejoin them to strike down the mandate. Kennedy relentlessly lobbied Roberts until the end to come back. Of course he did not, and the conservatives’ decision became a dissent.
Now this conflict has been brewing for some time. You can trace it back to the first full term of the new Roberts Court. That term had several controversial cases, including school busing and abortion. Liberal justices thought Roberts had signaled he would be open to compromise and be more moderate. But he sided with conservatives that year, making the liberals feel misled. They were furious. As one said at the time: “He talks the talk, but won’t walk the walk.”
Conservatives were angry at Roberts, too – they thought he gave the liberals false hope. He ended up just pushing them further away.
Having conflict between justices on the court probably isn’t anything new. Having these kind of leaks about it is. That seems to speak to the depth of the anger from the conservative wing of the court, and perhaps to the erosion of comity and commitment to professional courtesy. It’s one thing to have people engage in reading tea leaves based on the wording of the opinions from various cases, but it’s something new to have people on the inside talking so freely about interpersonal conflicts at the Supreme Court, and so soon after the end of the session.
It sounds like the summer vacation couldn’t come soon enough, and that Roberts couldn’t get far enough away from everyone else. Malta may be too close, at least for the first few weeks. Clearly, someone wants to go after Roberts in public, and we’ll see if any of the justices themselves address this in public speeches between now and the start of the next session.