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Monday, July 2, 2012 - Page updated at 07:30 p.m.

Roberts 'wobbly' before ruling on health-care law, CBS reports

By Seattle Times news services

WASHINGTON — As Republican congressional leaders continued their attack Sunday on President Obama's health-care law, CBS News reported Chief Justice John Roberts initially sided with the Supreme Court's four conservative justices to strike down the heart of the Affordable Care Act but later changed his position and joined liberals to uphold it.

After Roberts made his decision known, CBS reported, Justice Anthony Kennedy — believed by many to be the justice most likely to vote for the law — led the effort to try to bring Roberts back to his original position. CBS News reported the switch on Sunday, citing two sources with specific knowledge of the deliberations.

The conservatives refused to join even part of his opinion, including sections with which they agreed, the sources told CBS.

Instead, the four crafted a highly unusual, unsigned joint dissent. Word of Roberts' unusual shift has spread widely within the court, and is known among law clerks, chambers' aides and secretaries, CBS reported on its website.

The report by CBS News chief political and legal correspondent Jan Crawford noted that at the time, there were numerous media reports warning of damage to the court — and to Roberts' reputation — if the court were to strike down the mandate. It was around this time that it also became clear to the conservative justices that Roberts was, as one put it, "wobbly," the sources told CBS.

It is not known why Roberts changed his view on the mandate and upheld the law. At least one conservative justice tried to get him to explain it but was unsatisfied with the response, according to a source with knowledge of the conversation. Roberts engaged in his own lobbying effort — trying to persuade at least Justice Kennedy to join his decision so the court would appear more united in the case, CBS reported.

Kennedy was the most forceful of the conservatives in trying to persuade Roberts to strike down the mandate. Two sources confirm that he didn't give up until the very end, CBS said.

While technically handing a political victory to Obama, Roberts' ruling invigorated Republicans eager to cast the law as a new tax.

"The American people do not want to go down this path," said House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio. "They do not want the government telling them what kind of insurance policy they have to buy, and how much they have to pay for it, and if you don't like it we're going to tax you."

"We've got one last chance here to beat Obamacare, and we can do that in the November election," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., calling the law the "single worst piece of legislation" passed in modern times.

White House chief of staff Jack Lew said the mandate would impact only 1 percent of Americans — those who can afford health insurance but don't have it and refuse to buy it.

The House is scheduled to vote to overturn the law on July 9. The vote will largely be symbolic since the Democrats control the Senate. But it will put lawmakers on record for the upcoming political campaign.

McConnell and Lew spoke on "Fox News Sunday." Boehner spoke on CBS' "Face the Nation."

Includes information from The Associated Press


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