Gonzales On Chief Justice's Surprising Decision

Chief Justice John Roberts sided with liberal justices to uphold President Obama's signature health care law. Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales spent a great deal of time vetting Roberts in anticipation of the Supreme Court appointment. He speaks with host Michel Martin about the chief justice's decision.

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We want to get another angle on yesterday's Supreme Court decision on health care. The health care law would not have survived without the support of Chief Justice John Roberts. That support was surprising to many people, perhaps even shocking. He'd been seen as a solid conservative vote in the court but this week two opinions are making people rethink that: yesterday's health care decision and one earlier this week striking down much of Arizona's immigration enforcement law.

Joining us now to talk about all this is the former attorney general of the United States, Alberto Gonzales. He served in that role. He was also White House counsel under President George W. Bush. He was in the White House when John Roberts was nominated and vetted for the position. And we also want to mention that Mr. Gonzales also once served as a judge with the Texas Supreme Court.

That's one reason I'll be referring to him as judge, and he teaches law now at Belmont University. He's of counsel with Waller Law Firm.

Judge Gonzales, welcome back to the program to you also. Thank you for joining us once again.

ALBERTO GONZALES: I'm always happy to have a conversation with you, Michel.

MARTIN: So Judge Gonzales, as we mentioned, the chief justice's role in the health care decision surprised - in fact, perhaps even shocked - a lot of people. I wanted to ask what your reaction was. Were you surprised?

GONZALES: To be honest, I was a little surprised about how we got there. I had a feeling that the votes would be there to uphold the law, but how we actually got there was surprising to me. I did spend - I was not in the White House when John Roberts was officially vetted. I was the attorney general at the Department of Justice. Obviously I vetted John Roberts for the D.C. circuit when I was White House counsel and there was a lot of vetting of Judge Roberts before there was an actual vacancy on the court.

You know, I think that much of the angst that we're hearing out there in the conservative community is really angst about the policy more so than I think the legal decision. I think there is, you know, lack of support, certainly in the conservative community, about health care, and there's a lot of uncertainty still about it. And I think that that's what you're really hearing out there, and so this now moves to the political arena, where quite frankly it should be.

And you made a statement earlier that, you know, health care - the Affordable Care Act is here to stay because the decision - well, that's not true. It is now in the political arena, where it should be, and I think the American people have the opportunity in the election, the presidential election this fall to voice their opinion about the Affordable Care Act, and obviously in decisions about who's going to represent them in the House and the Senate.

So this is the beginning of the debate, as far as I'm concerned, not the end of the debate. Health care is a very important issue. It's an extremely complicated issue. The Affordable Care Act is extremely complex. There is still a lot of uncertainty out there. Many provisions are still not in effect and I think there is - it's understandable that people have a great deal of anxiety about what it means for them, what this decision means for them.

The truth of the matter is, in many cases we just don't know, but I think it's a good thing that this thing is now in the political arena, where it should be resolved.

MARTIN: We need to take a short break and we're going to ask you to stay with us and talk about this issue a little bit more, and also another, you know, important story in Washington. I did want to ask one more question about health care when we come back. A number of conservatives have been very harsh in their critique of Chief Justice Roberts, calling him a traitor, among other things. And you know, relying on your experience, also as a former judge, as well as in other important roles in Washington, we want to ask you what your assessment of that criticism is and if you are having a how-could-you moment as well.

We're talking about some of the big news in Washington with former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. We're going to ask you to stay with us as we take a short break and when we come back we'll also talk about that contempt of Congress vote directed at the current attorney general, Eric Holder. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin and we hope you'll stay with us.

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