WASHINGTON - Before the Supreme Court ruled on President Obama's health care law, the warnings that the public should be alert to a "political decision" all came from the left.
Liberals said that a ruling by the five conservative, Republican-nominated justices to strike down the signature domestic achievement of a Democratic president and a Democratic-controlled Congress would come with an unmistakable partisan sheen.
But with Chief Justice John Roberts joining the four justices nominated by Democratic presidents to uphold the Affordable Care Act, the charges of a political deal have come from the right.
"The fact that this decision was apparently political, rather than legal, completely undermines its legitimacy as a precedent," said Randy Barnett, the Georgetown Law Center professor who was at the heart of the legal strategy for challenging the law.
The Wall Street Journal's editorial page initially denounced Thursday's ruling and returned Monday even more outraged, saying that the decision "is far more dangerous, and far more political, even than it first appeared last week."
Carrie Severino, legal counsel for the Judicial Crisis Network, wrote in National Review Online that Roberts had succumbed to declarations by Obama and the left that the court would be seen as partisan if it struck down the law.
And John Yoo, a former Bush administration lawyer, suggested in the Wall Street Journal that there had been a catastrophic vetting failure in 2005 when the administration was considering Roberts' nomination. "If a Republican is elected president [this year]," said Yoo, "he will have to be more careful than the last."
Roberts, along with the conservative members of the court, rejected the Obama administration's argument that Congress was empowered by the Constitution's commerce clause to require that almost every American either obtain health insurance by 2014 or pay a penalty.
But over the objections of the conservatives, who wanted to strike down the entire law, Roberts joined the court's liberals to say that the act was a valid exercise of Congress's taxing power.
He said that even that may not be the best reading of the law but that the court must hold an act constitutional if a plausible argument can be made for it. He quoted Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes: "As between two possible interpretations of a statute, by one of which it would be unconstitutional and by the other valid, our plain duty is to adopt that which will save the Act."
Ever since the decision, there has been speculation that Roberts at one point was aligned with the conservative justices. CBS's Jan Crawford reported that Roberts changed his mind at some point after the arguments in late March and "withstood a monthlong, desperate campaign to bring him back to his original position."
The court's inner workings are secret; Crawford attributed her report to "two sources with specific knowledge of the deliberations."
The four justices who voted to strike down the entire law were Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito Jr. The joint dissent they issued on the day of the decision was unusual because it did not follow the customary pattern of addressing the arguments made in the majority opinion. And the four did not join the part of Roberts' opinion that addressed the commerce clause, even though they essentially agreed with his assessment. Joining Roberts to uphold the law were Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
The New York Times contributed to this report.