Not since Brown v. Board of Education outlawed segregation will a Supreme Court decision have such a lasting, positive impact on so many people in this country. Yet that is precisely what happened Thursday morning when the Affordable Care Act was upheld. Future generations of Americans will live better, healthier lives as a result.
In many respects, the decision was a surprise and not simply because it upheld everything from the individual mandate to Washington’s ability to withhold funds from states that refuse to comply with the law.
The biggest surprise was that arch-conservative Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the majority and even wrote the opinion, and that Justice Kennedy voted against the law. But there were others, as well. For example, the Court largely sidestepped the broad issue of whether the Constitution’s Interstate Commerce cause supported ACA, or if the “Necessary and Proper” clause granted Congress broad powers to enact social legislation.
Yet while legal scholars, non-thinkers at the American Enterprise Institute think tank, members of the Federalist Society and right wingers generally will argue about SCOTUS’s meaning – with some howling about the ruling – the simple fact is that for the first time in the 236-year history of the United States, Americans have been guaranteed the right to access fairly priced health care.
It’s high time. We’re just about the last major country on earth not to have some form of national health insurance.
As the highly-regarded SCOTUSblog noted right after the decision came down, the law was upheld because the Constitution gives Congress the unambiguous power to tax.
Five Justices agreed that the penalty for refusing to buy health insurance is a kind of tax, and Congress can impose taxes. Clearly, some clever Constitutional lawyer was advising Congress to make sure the mandate stuck by putting the IRS in charge of assessing and collecting the penalty.
But before liberals begin cheering the court’s decision as marking a new era in progressive rulings – after all, earlier this week the Court struck down Arizona’s “papers please” laws and those condemned juveniles to life imprisonment without parole – we need to keep the Roberts’ ruling in perspective.
This is the same John Roberts who overthrew 21st century gun control laws based on not understanding 18th century punctuation laws. He’s ruled against pregnancy termination rights and affirmative action, and for Citizens United’s right to buy elections.
Justice Roberts has refused to corral his equally conservative Associate Justices from selling their integrity to right-wing political groups and causes, allowing his high court colleagues to accept travel expenses and lush speaking fees for appearing at partisan right wing events held in posh resorts.
Necessary And Proper
Especially disturbing is that Roberts’ opinion avoided ruling on the government’s argument that powers in the interstate commerce clause and the “necessary and proper” clause – which says Congress may enact legislation that’s important for the country – upheld the very foundation of ACA. Indeed, these were the first two points made by the Solicitor General during oral arguments.
What is disturbing about this is that there are a whole raft of voting rights and affirmative action cases that are likely to be heard by SCOTUS when it reconvenes on the first Monday in October.
By not deciding on the interstate commerce or “necessary and proper” arguments in his ruling, Roberts left open the door to the Court tossing out federal laws that date back to the 1960s and have been upheld in numerous rulings ever since. But based on history, Roberts and his colleagues are likely to toss out major provisions of US law that ensure everyone has a right to vote and everyone is entitled to be treated fairly by employers.
Yes, the ACA ruling is cause for celebration. But, no, John Roberts is not that great progressive Chief Justice, Earl Warren, reincarnated.
Author and journalist Charley James’ next book is about his experience becoming homeless. When published, Charley will donate a percentage of his advance and royalties to homeless organizations.
Follow Charley on Twitter @SuddenlyHomeles.
Published: Thursday, 28 June 2012