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John Roberts Health Care Decision: Supreme Court Chief Justice Switched Sides, CBS Reports

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FILE - In a Sept. 29, 2009, file photo Chief Justice John Roberts sits for a new photograph at the Supreme Court in Washington. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)
FILE - In a Sept. 29, 2009, file photo Chief Justice John Roberts sits for a new photograph at the Supreme Court in Washington. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)

Fresh evidence has surfaced regarding suspicions that Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts switched his vote on health care reform.

CBS News reports that Roberts initially sided with the court's four conservative members to overturn President Barack Obama's individual mandate. After changing his mind, Roberts fended off a month of efforts to sway him back to the other side, headed by Justice Anthony Kennedy.

"He was relentless," a source told CBS regarding Kennedy's push. "He was very engaged in this."

In addition to private jostling within the Supreme Court, it appears that the public spotlight was a factor. The CBS report points to how Roberts pays attention to media coverage. With his court's reputation on the line, one source suggested that the chief justice became "wobbly" in the eyes of his conservative counterparts.

As the court made its historic Affordable Care Act ruling on Thursday, suspicions arose regarding Roberts being scared off by Justice Antonin Scalia. The Daily Beast highlighted one theory from a reader who clerked on an appellate court.

He certainly didn't trust the dissenters, as he clearly instructed his law clerks to begin working on an alternative majority opinion (the final product was too polished and too long to have been written at the last minute). And he waited to see what was written.

Coupled with that opinion were details that pointed to some oddities within the formatting of Scalia's dissent, via The Volokh Conspiracy.

Notice also that his response to Roberts is tacked on at the end, rather than worked into the body of whatever he was writing (see page 64 of his dissent). For example, one would have expected Scalia to directly take on Roberts’ application of the Anti-Injunction Act, but his brief section on that act only mentions what “the Government” argues (see pages 26-28).

The 5-4 ruling in favor of preserving the mandate may have also fit into a bigger picture. HuffPost blogger Adam Winkler noted that Roberts' heaviest interest is not health care, writing that the chief justice may want to "preserve the Court's capital to take on other big issues."

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