After the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 to reject an existential challenge to Obamacare on Thursday, conservatives took direct aim at the author of the decision: their one-time hero Chief Justice John Roberts.
Their sentiments were channeled by several Republican presidential candidates, who lashed out at the Roberts Court for its purportedly activist pro-Obamacare ruling.
“Roberts told everybody he was just going to be an umpire and call strikes and balls, but now as justice he’s got two results-oriented decisions that go far beyond that role,” said Club For Growth President David McIntosh, suggesting his group will seek to avoid future nominations like Roberts. “What the Club does, in picking candidates, is look at their record, and look at not just what they have stood for on economic issues but what they’ll do in the future. What the Club will want candidates to ask their potential nominees is: Will they be faithful to the Constitution?”
Shortly after the decision, Competitive Enterprise Institute general counsel Sam Kazman told reporters that Roberts’s rationale seemed to abandon the logic of “what words mean” in favor of executive power.
“We were very surprised by his reasoning in the NFIB case [in 2012 about Obamacare's individual mandate], and we’re even more surprised by his reasoning here,” said Kazman, who largely coordinated the plaintiffs’ case. “Frankly, since the entire purpose of the Constitution was to impose restrictions on government, we see his ruling as a weakening of that.”
Elsewhere on the right, Roberts’s decision was being interpreted as a failure of Republicans to properly vet nominees–or worse. Phil Kerpen, whose group American Commitment had popularized videos of Obama administration consultant Jonathan Gruber appearing to make the plaintiffs’ case in King, directed followers to a 2005 column that decried Roberts as a “political” appointee who would not rely strictly on the Constitution. The author of that column, Ben Shapiro, took a sort of Twitter victory lap.
“Republicans should be asked: knowing then what you know now, would you have voted to confirm Chief Justice John Roberts?” Shapiro wrote.
Conservatives had plenty of help from their presidential contenders, who didn't explicitly name Roberts but launched a series of arrows at his ruling and his court.
Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, a former lawyer who has argued cases before the Supreme Court, came out swinging against the ruling as "judicial activism, plain and simple," and swiped the majority as "robed Houdinis" who made a "nakedly political" move.
"These judges have joined with President Obama in harming millions of Americans," he said. "Unelected judges have once again become legislators, and bad ones at that. They are lawless, and they hide their prevarication in legalese. Our government was designed to be one of laws, not of men, and this transparent distortion is disgraceful."
Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee was no less fired up.
"Today's King v. Burwell decision, which protects and expands Obamacare, is an out-of-control act of judicial tyranny," he said. "Our Founding Fathers didn't create a 'do-over' provision in our Constitution that allows unelected, Supreme Court justices the power to circumvent Congress and rewrite bad laws."
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, a likely candidate, adopted the attack with a string of tweets quoting Justice Antonin Scalia's dissent that the law should now be called "SCOTUScare." Senator Marco Rubio subtly accused the justices of taking policy in their own hands, saying they "erred in trying to correct the mistakes made by President Obama and Congress in forcing ObamaCare on the American people." Other Republican candidates took aim at Obamacare but not the Supreme Court.
A blog post by Michael F. Cannon of the libertarian Cato Institute, an architect of the King v. Burwell lawsuit, blared "Supreme Court Validates Obama’s Power Grab."
"Today the Supreme Court allowed itself to be intimidated," he wrote, warning that the ruling "establishes a precedent that could let any president modify, amend, or suspend any enacted law at his or her whim."
The anger at Roberts spanned generations, uniting all manner of conservatives in a distrust at the Republican establishment. David Limbaugh, the author and brother of radio host Limbaugh, asked why Republicans “end up with so many Trojan Horse Supreme Court appointments.” Sean Davis, a senior editor at the conservative web site The Federalist wrote bitterly that “every fancy conservative legal foundation said Roberts was the most amazing nomination ever.”
On the more conspiracy-minded end of the spectrum, libertarian author Wayne Root wondered in the website The Blaze: "Has Supreme Court Justice John Roberts been blackmailed or intimidated? I would put nothing by the Obama administration that lives and rules by the Chicago thug playbook."