Republican presidential contender Ted Cruz attacked Chief Justice John Roberts and other members of the Supreme Court in unusually harsh terms Thursday, referring to them as "rogue justices" and "robed Houdinis" after a 6-3 decision to uphold President Barack Obama's health care law.
Cruz, a Texas senator, did not mention any current high court members by name in remarks on the Senate floor. But his speech included a thinly veiled reference to Roberts, part of the court majority that upheld tax credits that defray the cost of coverage for lower-income individuals nationwide.
"These justices are not behaving as umpires calling balls and strikes. They have joined a team," the Texas lawmaker said.
At his Senate confirmation hearing a decade ago, Roberts said, "I will remember that it's my job to call balls and strikes and not to pitch or bat."
Cruz also said the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist — whom Roberts succeeded — "would be filled with sorrow at what has become of the Supreme Court of the United States."
Appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2005, Roberts also referred to Rehnquist, calling him a mentor and friend.
Other congressional critics of the law registered their unhappiness with the ruling, but few if any employed the tone that Cruz used.
He said the decision was "judicial activism, plain and simple," and said the court spoke for "nakedly political reasons."
As for the six justices who comprised the majority in the decision, he said, "They are lawless, and they hide their prevarication in legalese."
While Cruz did not explain his reference to "robed Houdinis," Harry Houdini was an early 20th-century magician who specialized in escaping from jails, straitjackets, coffins and other seemingly inescapable surroundings.
In addition to Roberts, Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan formed a majority in the case.
Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented.