The ObamaCare ruling: What happened behind the scenes?

John Roberts' conflict, President Obama's confusion, and more compelling details about the game-changing Supreme Court ruling and its immediate aftermath

President Obama
(Image credit: CC BY: The White House)

After the Supreme Court upheld the centerpiece of President Obama's health care law, the dramatic decision was instantly immortalized in blaring headlines, blog posts, and tweets. A number of related dramas got less attention, however — unfolding across the nation from the Oval Office to Obama campaign headquarters in Chicago to the headquarters of CNN to the courtroom itself. Here, a look at what happened behind the scenes:

1. John Roberts was very uncomfortable

Though the conservative chief justice joined the court's four liberals to uphold the law, he wasn't necessarily thrilled about it. When the black-robed justices first entered the courtroom, the only hint of how Roberts would swing came from the arch-conservative Antonin Scalia, who, "taking his place at the chief justice's right, bowed his head as if in mourning," says Dana Milbank at The Washington Post. When the dissenting judges excoriated the majority for "vast judicial overreaching," Roberts "pursed his lips and stared at the desk in front of him." When the liberal Ruth Bader Ginsburg accused the chief justice of curbing Congress' power in a partial dissent, Roberts "turned a pained gaze toward the florets in the ceiling."

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2. President Obama thought the law had been overturned

CNN and Fox News burst out of the gates with headlines mistakenly stating that the individual mandate — which requires nearly all Americans to purchase insurance or pay a fine — had been struck down. President Obama, watching a bank of four monitors outside the Oval Office, initially believed those inaccurate reports. Obama was "a bit crestfallen and anxious for more detail," says Glenn Thrush at Politico. A minute later White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler informed him that the law had been upheld. (Ruemmler relied on SCOTUSblog, an influential website that was running a live feed of analysis.) "When the reality hit, he padded into the Oval Office, where he embraced Ruemmler and eventually hugged his laconic chief of staff, Jack Lew."

3. Obama's campaign was confused, too

David Axelrod, a senior adviser on Obama's campaign team, also thought the law had been struck down. Axelrod had been "sitting in the office of Obama campaign manager Jim Messina when they read on Twitter what would prove to be an erroneous initial report," says Geneva Sands at The Hill. They saw the incorrect banner headline on CNN, which only seemed to confirm the bad news. Then they heard a big cheer from the staff outside the office, and were totally confused. They finally figured out what had actually happened: "We went outside and all these kids were cheering and crying and hugging," Axelrod told MSNBC. "It really was a reminder of why you do the work."

4. CNN was a hot mess

The trouble began when Bill Mears, a CNN producer in the courtroom, jumped the gun before Roberts finished speaking. He relayed incorrect information to reporter Kate Bolduan, who was in front of the cameras outside the court. "Moments after Bolduan spoke, the false story began to metastasize inside the network's online operation," says Michael Hastings at Buzzfeed. CNN anchor John King declared that it was a huge blow to Obama, only to have his colleague Wolf Blitzer call it a huge victory for Obama only minutes later. "Fucking humiliating," an unidentified CNN employee told Hastings. CNN later apologized for the error; Fox News did not.

Sources: Buzzfeed, The Hill, The Huffington Post, Politico, The Washington Post

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