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Conservative Justice Saves Obamacare

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, a champion of conservative causes, stunned the US political establishment by casting the deciding vote to uphold President Barack Obama’s health reforms.

With Thursday’s landmark ruling, observers are taking a new look at Roberts, 57, long seen as a bedrock conservative who in seven years on the court has cast decisive votes favouring social conservatives and business interests.

“It is momentous that the conservative chief justice provided the critical vote and wrote the decision saving the administration’s most vital achievement,” said Tom Goldstein, a longtime Supreme Court expert.

It was Roberts’s sometimes sceptical interrogation of government lawyers that led observers to predict he would vote to overturn the Affordable Care Act, seen as the greatest domestic achievement of Obama‘s presidency.

Roberts’s votes on the nine-member panel have aligned with those of the two most conservative justices – Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas – including on the controversial 2010 Citizens’ United ruling, which lifted restrictions on campaign spending by corporations.

But the top justice on the Supreme Court has added a quizzical new entry to his biography in voting with the court’s liberal stalwarts to uphold Obama’s Affordable Care Act, deemed “Obamacare” by its conservative detractors.

Graham Wilson, chair of the political science department at Boston University, said Roberts had “turned the issue back to the arena of democratic politics” by upholding the law narrowly passed by Congress.

“This is John Roberts’s attempt at avoiding the damning critique of history,” said Abner Greene, a professor at Fordham University School of Law.

At the time he was nominated to the Supreme Court, Roberts was hailed as one of the best legal minds of his generation.

Then-president George W. Bush picked Roberts to head the top court at the relatively young age of 50 after the death of its veteran chief justice and conservative icon, William Rehnquist.

His tenure has been marked by a shift in the court’s balance as Bush picked another renowned conservative jurist, Samuel Alito, to replace Sandra Day O’Connor, who was considered a swing vote, after she retired in 2006.

Born in Buffalo, New York on January 27, 1955, Roberts was raised in Indiana and graduated from Harvard Law School in 1979.

He served as an adviser to George W Bush’s campaign as it prepared its case before the Supreme Court to halt the Florida presidential vote recount in 2000. Three years later, Bush appointed him to the US Court of Appeals in Washington.

Roberts married his wife, Jane Mary Sullivan, when they were in their 40s. They have adopted two children, Josephine and John.


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