In This Review

The Oath: The Obama White House and The Supreme Court
The Oath: The Obama White House and The Supreme Court
By Jeffrey Toobin
Doubleday, 2012, 352 pp

It is certainly true that during the past four years, the most dramatic changes were on matters of domestic policy -- and none was more dramatic or fraught than the arrival of Obamacare. Indeed, the most important victory Obama won in his first term was the 5–4 Supreme Court decision affirming the constitutionality of his health insurance reforms. With that vote, the administration entered history, having accomplished the kind of large-scale overhaul that had eluded presidents since the Truman era. Toobin, a strong opponent of what he sees as a conscious and deliberate Republican strategy to politicize the Supreme Court, tells the story of the Court’s lurch to the right under Chief Justice John Roberts and argues that Roberts’ vote to uphold Obamacare represented the triumph of a long-term conservative judicial strategy over a short-term political one. By affirming the health-care law, Toobin suggests, Roberts could protect the Court against the perception that it had become a partisan Republican tool, even as he and his allies continued to move the Court to the right. That is a plausible interpretation of what happened. Yet readers might consider a simpler explanation: facing the most important legal issue in a generation, the chief justice of the United States rendered an honest and impartial decision based on his understanding of the facts and the law in the case. That interpretation would not preclude an awareness on Roberts’ part of the consequences of his ruling; as Chief Justice John Marshall understood, sometimes integrity is the subtlest and most effective strategy of all.