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Post Partisan
Posted at 11:18 AM ET, 07/03/2012

Slimy leaks about John Roberts at Supreme Court


The famously tight-lipped Supreme Court kept the secret of its health care ruling until the very end of the term. But now that the decision is out, the court has sprung a leak – and it’s oozing slime all over Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.  

Tout Washington is buzzing about CBS News’ report that Roberts switched his vote in the middle of the case — from striking down the law’s individual mandate to upholding it. Citing “two sources with specific knowledge of the deliberations,” the story insinuates that the chief went “wobbly” in the face of pressure from the Obama White House and the media. 

The CBS scoop has everyone asking, “Is it true?” My question is, “Who are these two sources?”  

What anonymice would spin Roberts’s performance as cowardly and then scuttle behind the protective folds of CBS’s source-protection promise? Who are the Cassius and Brutus inside the court, creeping up behind the chief justice with their verbal daggers? 

I wouldn’t know. I do know that CBS’s reporter, Jan Crawford, is a fine journalist whose good relationship with Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife, Tea Party booster and sometime Daily Caller correspondent Ginni Thomas, is widely known around the Supreme Court.

Thomas comes off as a principled conservative in Crawford’s story, especially by comparison to the Chief Justice. He is one of the conservative justices who “deliberately avoid[s] news articles on the court when issues are pending (and avoid some publications altogether, such as The New York Times).” He doesn’t want to be “influenced by outside opinion or feel pressure from outlets that are perceived as liberal.”  

By contrast, that wobbly John Roberts “pays attention to media coverage. As chief justice, he is keenly aware of his leadership role on the court, and he also is sensitive to how the court is perceived by the public.” 

Not explained is why, if the liberals had a craven Roberts on the run, two liberal justices, Stephen G. Breyer and Elena Kagan, felt obliged to switch their positions and join the chief in a 7-2 ruling declaring Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion unconstitutional. 

The rest of the story proceeds in a similar vein, presenting a struggle between the four true-red justices and their wayward, spineless chief — culminating in Roberts’s apostasy and a decision by Thomas and company to “deliberately ignore” Roberts’s opinion in their joint dissenting opinion, as a sign “they were no longer even willing to engage with him in debate.” 

If his colleagues did actually throw this temper tantrum ostracize the chief, it would be the kind of purist gesture for which Thomas often mistakenly expects to be admired. But, again, I have no idea who Crawford’s sources might be. 

Trust, candor and confidence among the justices, which this story undermines, are quite properly not a reporter’s concern; kudos to Jan Crawford for a nifty little scoop.

But shame on the treacherous insiders who fed it to her.

Read more on the health-care ruling:

Michael Gerson: The chief justice’s alternate universe

Charles Krauthammer: Why Roberts did it

Dana Milbank: The umpire strikes back

Kathleen Parker: Justice Roberts’s resurrection

E.J. Dionne: A win for Obama — and Roberts

By  |  11:18 AM ET, 07/03/2012

 
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