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Chief Justice John Roberts turns out to be not quite the person Senator Barack Obama opposed

Barack Obama and John Roberts got off to a rocky start, when the Supreme Court chief justice botched his presidential oath of office on Jan. 20, 2009. Today, Roberts sided with the majority to uphold the legality of Obama’s health care law.Chuck Kennedy/Pool via AP

Chief Justice John Roberts turned out today to be not quite the person then-Senator Barack Obama voted against for the Supreme Court in 2005.

The conservative who President George W. Bush tapped not just to serve on but lead the nation’s highest court delivered the crucial vote - and wrote the opinion for - the decision upholding the constitutionality of the key provision of now-President Obama’s health care law.

In upholding the law’s individual mandate, Roberts handed the incumbent Democrat a political victory as Obama tries to fend off a reelection challenge from Republican Mitt Romney.

It’s a long way from their rocky start, when Roberts botched Obama’s 35-word presidential oath of office, forcing the nation’s newly minted leader to ask the chief justice to come to the White House for a do-over after some conservatives claimed he technically was not president.


It also was not the result some liberals and Democrats expected before the decision was unveiled this morning.

Little more than 12 hours earlier, the Senate candidate for whom Obama campaigned in Boston on Monday - fellow Democrat Elizabeth Warren - was on MSNBC saying the ruling would be a telling gauge for assessing the politicization of the Supreme Court.

“We need to use this moment to reflect on the importance of the Supreme Court and who sits on the Supreme Court,” Warren told liberal talk show host Rachel Maddow.

Noting the justices ruled earlier this week to uphold their 2010 Citizens United decision that has unleashed unprecedented spending on this year’s presidential election, the Harvard Law School professor issued a warning and made a pitch for her election to the upper chamber of Congress.

She is running against Senator Scott Brown, a Republican who has called for repealing Obama’s law, which Warren supports.

“The Supreme Court is wading into really deep waters, and is doing it in ways that, I think, worry us all, and I think it’s a reminder that who sits in the United States Senate, to review those nominations, to vote on those nominations, really does matter,” said Warren.


For emphasis, she added: “It will be about the Affordable Care Act tomorrow, but it will also be about the Supreme Court tomorrow.”

When “tomorrow” came, Roberts sided with the court’s four liberal justices - Stephen G. Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor - to create the 5-4 majority in favor of upholding the Affordable Care Act.

While Justice Anthony Kennedy is viewed as the swing vote on key court decisions, and the justice upon whom many liberals counted to come to their rescue, he instead sided with conservatives justices Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito, and Clarence Thomas to vote against the law.

Roberts wrote in his ruling: “The most straightforward reading of the individual mandate is that it commands individuals to purchase insurance. But, for the reasons explained, the Commerce Clause does not give Congress that power. It is therefore necessary to turn to the government’s alternative argument: that the mandate may be upheld as within Congress’s power to ‘lay and collect taxes.’”

In simple terms, Roberts backed Obama, the person who tried to keep him from having his say.

Glen Johnson can be reached at johnson@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.