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Roberts' Vote Upholding Healthcare Ruling Was The Right Decision

Jordan Klein |
July 5, 2012 | 11:09 a.m. PDT


The Supreme Court upheld President Obama's Affordable Care Act. (Mark Fischer, Creative Commons)
The Supreme Court upheld President Obama's Affordable Care Act. (Mark Fischer, Creative Commons)
With the single stroke of a pen, Chief Justice John Roberts simultaneously preserved the country’s last foreseeable chance for universal healthcare and salvaged both the legitimacy and credibility of the nation’s highest court. In a shocking decision, Roberts joined forces with the Supreme Court’s four liberal justices to uphold President Obama’s landmark achievement, the Affordable Care Act.

Legal challenges to the Act, colloquially known as “Obamare,” centered on the law’s individual mandate, which requires every American to purchase health insurance or face a penalty. Opponents of Obamacare maintained that Congress does not possess the power to force Americans to buy something. By a 5-4 margin, however, the Supreme Court held that because Congress is able to tax, the penalty for refusing to purchase health insurance is indeed constitutional.

What makes the result of the Supreme Court’s deliberations so surprising is the fact that conventional wisdom dictated that Justice Roberts, nominated by President George W. Bush, was a firm member of the so-called conservative bloc of the court. The moderate Justice Anthony Kennedy is usually the decisive voice and the court’s sole swing-vote. This recent deluge of 5-4 decisions on important laws led to a sharp decline in the Supreme Court’s popularity and a growing belief that the nine justices of the Court were voting based on politics rather than the law of the constitution.

In the weeks leading up to the release of the Court’s decision, press coverage focused on Anthony Kennedy and essentially decided that the fate of the nation’s health care would be in his hands. When legal experts noticed that Justice Kennedy seemed particularly averse to the individual mandate during the case’s oral arguments, most predicted that the individual mandate would fall and bring the entire law down with it. In this vein, Justice Roberts brilliantly stepped up and realized that more was at stake than simply the fate of this country’s uninsured.

Had Roberts sided with Justice Kennedy and the rest of the Court’s conservatives, yet another 5-4 decision reeking of partisanship would be handed down. The American people’s trust in the Court would be further eroded, and the Supreme Court would begin to lose even more credibility with future matters. By crossing what many thought was the equivalent of a partisan line, Justice Roberts restored hope that some justices on the bench do indeed judge law based on constitutional principles instead of partisan leanings.

In addition, I am sure that Justice Roberts recognized that, despite the nonsense spewed by the Right, the Affordable Care Act simply needed to become law. While the law was continuously vilified by Republicans as a form of socialism and a government takeover of healthcare, the truth is that Obamacare is an extremely conservative measure that actually strengthens the hands of the insurance companies.

In fact, as is still not publicized widely enough, the individual mandate, now demonized by Republicans as the death of freedom itself, was originally a conservative invention. The conservative think-tank the Heritage Foundation championed the individual mandate as a response to the more liberal plan devised by Hillary Clinton during Bill Clinton’s presidency. President Obama even modeled his health care plan on an almost exactly identical plan that Mitt Romney instated as governor of Massachusetts. Mitt Romney, of course, now decries the Affordable Care Act as a nefarious form of European Socialism.

Most Democrats never even wanted a plan this conservative and originally pushed for a single-payer system similar to what exists in Canada, Europe, and the rest of the wealthiest countries in the world. Yet in the face of recalcitrant Republicans, President Obama attempted to compromise and backed an extremely watered down bill filled with conservative ideas hoping to get a handful of Republican votes. Ultimately, the bill received one Republican vote in the House and none in the Senate. Republicans had completely turned their back on an idea they had supported just fifteen years earlier.

The current toxic political environment within the country undoubtedly shaped Justice Roberts’ decision as well. Should Obamacare fall, it is difficult seeing another comprehensive health care being passed within the next decade at least. And despite all the hysteria, the benefits of this bill far outweigh any potential drawbacks. By sensing this seemingly self-evident truth, Justice Roberts proved that he is a competent justice able to rise above petty partisanship in order to render a decision for the good of the entire country. Here is hoping that the Republican Party is soon able to follow the example of their conservative icon.


Reach Contributor Jordan Klein here; follow him here.



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