National Press Club

Roberts protected Supreme Court perception in `Obamacare' decision, Toobin says

September 20, 2012 | By Heather Forsgren Weaver | HeatherForsgrenWeaver@gmail.com

Jeffrey Toobin, senior CNN legal analyst and staff writer for The New Yorker, discusses his new book "The Oath: The Obama White House and the Supreme Court," at a National Press Club Book Rap, September 19, 2012.

Jeffrey Toobin, senior CNN legal analyst and staff writer for The New Yorker, discusses his new book "The Oath: The Obama White House and the Supreme Court," at a National Press Club Book Rap, September 19, 2012.

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the four liberals in upholding the Obama health care law because he cares about how the court is perceived, Jeffrey Toobin told a National Press Club Book Rap on Sept. 19.

Toobin is the senior CNN legal analyst, a staff writer for the New Yorker and author of ``The Oath: The Obama White House and the Supreme Court.''

During his presentation, Toobin poked fun at himself and his errant prediction that the Supreme Court would overturn the law, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

“Certain television pundits can be mislead by oral arguments and make incorrect predictions about important results in important cases,” Toobin said.

Not since former President Dwight Eisenhower has a president been surprised by the decisions of his appointees to the Supreme Court, Toobin said.

“You could argue that Roberts’ vote in the health care act was surprising, but other than that, these justices are precisely what they were expected to be,” he said.

Even though Toobin began his speech by saying that there are five Republicans and four Democrats -- and “that is all you really need to know” -- he said ideology is important and necessary, and politics can’t be removed from the Supreme Court.

“When you have to deal with questions like ‘does the Constitution protect a woman’s right to choose an abortion?’ ‘may a university consider race in admissions?’ Those questions cannot be answered in a depoliticized way. It is inherent in the question,” Toobin said.

He encouraged the audience to attend a Supreme Court argument. “It is one of the best free shows in Washington,” he said.

One of the things you will learn from attending an argument and watching the Court interact is that even though it has now been more than six years since Justice Clarence Thomas last spoke during an oral argument, “he is not isolated,” Toobin said.

“Those of us who go to oral argument sit there every day and think might this be the day, and it never is, but this is why you have to go,'' he said. ``If you go to the argument, you’ll see they sit in seniority order. Thomas sits between [Justices Stephen] Breyer and [Anthony] Kennedy. They pass notes and they laugh and they tell jokes.”