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History between Obama, Justice Roberts: President once voted against him

Chief Justice John Roberts President Barack Obama

Chief Justice John Roberts and President Barack Obama

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Updated: July 30, 2012 6:32AM

WASHINGTON — Chief Justice John Roberts saved the day for President Barack Obama on Thursday, providing the critical swing Supreme Court vote to uphold his signature health care law — ironic since Obama declined to confirm him to the high court when he was a U.S. senator in 2005.

Roberts and Obama last were in the news together when Roberts flubbed a line when he swore Obama into office on Jan. 20, 2009, on the Capitol steps — which led to a private redo in the White House the next day.

Roberts, raised in Long Beach, Ind. — not far from Chicago — graduated from La Lumiere School, a Catholic high school in LaPorte after attending Notre Dame in Michigan City. His father worked for Bethlehem Steel in Burns Harbor and Roberts spent summers at the steel mill lugging tools for electricians.

Supreme Court observers all bet wrong in guessing that Justice Anthony Kennedy would be the swing vote in a close 5-4 decision, putting chips on Kennedy perhaps mainly because he had played that role in the past.

Roberts, appointed by former President George W. Bush, a Republican, demonstrated that a string of past rulings are not always predictive. In a big surprise, the man seen as a bedrock conservative joined four liberal justices — Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer — appointed by Democratic presidents in a historic opinion, which he authored.

Back in 2005, Obama met with Roberts before the confirmation vote and said at the time he had no doubt Roberts was qualified. Obama said in interviews and from the Senate floor he was concerned about the depth of Roberts’ “empathy,” didn’t quite know what was in his “heart” and didn’t want to be “flying blind” with a yes vote.

I wrote in 2005 that Obama thought Roberts should not have played his cards so close to his vest when he decided to say little about how he would decide cases.

“I think that given how closely divided the court is, and given the magnitude of some of the decisions that will probably be coming down during the course of his tenure on the court, that I will be flying blind a little bit,” Obama said in 2005.

Obama took to the Senate floor on Sept. 22, 2005, to explain why Roberts should not be confirmed.

Legal precedents and constitutional interpretations could only go so far. “In those five percent of hard cases, the constitutional text will not be directly on point. The language of the statute will not be perfectly clear. Legal process alone will not lead you to a rule of decision,” Obama said.

“…In those difficult cases, the critical ingredient is supplied by what is in the judge’s heart,” said Obama.

Roberts obviously did pass muster — he was confirmed 78-22. Vice President Joe Biden, then a senator from Delaware, also voted no, as did Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). Later on, Obama was hit with criticism from the left-of-center Democratic allied progressive political community when he voted to elevate Roberts to chief justice.

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