I find the reaction to Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts’s majority opinion, ruling the Affordable Care Act constitutional, an interesting one. You have many people, particularly those within the Republican Party, that have begun to demonize Roberts for his decision.
The Supreme Court is the highest court in the United States and has ultimate jurisdiction over all federal courts and over state court cases involving issues of federal law, and original jurisdiction over a small range of cases.
I believe that Roberts’ decision to go against the grain and vote his conscience was gutsy and should not be as shocking as people are making it out to be.
I mean, you have to look at the mounting pressure that Roberts had to be under to overturn such a monumental and landmark piece of legislation like the Affordable Care Act versus opposing the wishes of his conservative colleagues. The decision to strike down the law would have been catastrophic to the Obama administration and would have signaled a huge win for opponents to President Obama. Many people have wanted to repeal the legislation and believed the Supreme Court ruling would have given them the ammunition that they needed to make President Obama a guaranteed ‘one-term President.’
The decision by Chief Roberts, however, showed that he was not going to allow his political leanings lead him to do something that would have negatively impacted the American people. In doing so, it also gave him the ability to turn around the strong negative perception that the American people had of the Supreme Court, especially under his watch. Would he want to have this unprecedented ruling that would overturn a sitting President’s signature achievement be on his resume and happen under his watch? I say absolutely not.
Roberts understood that his decision would not negatively impact the Court and could not negatively impact him at all. The Court consists of a chief justice and eight associate justices who are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate. Once appointed, justices have life tenure unless they resign, retire, or are removed after impeachment. In recent years, the Court has been criticized for delving into the political arena and making landmark decisions on things that are typically made by the Executive and Legislative branches of government.
Everyone probably remembers the Bush v. Gore decision, in which the Supreme Court intervened in the 2000 presidential election and effectively chose George W. Bush over Al Gore, after Gore had received more popular votes than Bush. The intervention of the Supreme Court, especially as votes were being counted in Florida, had been criticized extensively by many people as an overreach by the Court. However, mostly liberals complained, while many conservatives applauded the Court’s intervention as the right thing to do.
Black people have been on the wrong end of the Supreme Court’s decisions, particularly if you see how the Court ruled in the Dred Scott decision of 1857, which upheld slavery or the Plessy v Ferguson decision of 1896, which upheld segregation under the doctrine of ‘separate but equal.’ Many people thought that the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision of 2010 was the wrong decision by the Supreme Court. Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission was a landmark United States Supreme Court case in which the Court held that the First Amendment prohibited the government from restricting independent political expenditures by corporations and unions.
The nonprofit corporation, Citizens United, wanted to air a film critical of Hillary Clinton and to advertise the film during television broadcasts in apparent violation of the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, which was commonly referred to as the McCain–Feingold Act. In a 5–4 decision, similar to the Affordable Care Act ruling, the Court held that portions of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act violated the First Amendment.
The Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision has often been credited with the influx of these ‘super PACs’ that have been popping up all over the country. A PAC stands for ‘Political Action Committee’ and they can accept unlimited contributions from individuals, corporations, and unions that can be used to run ads and political messaging in support of candidates or a particular party. This has led to claims of large secret donations, and questions about whether such groups should be required to disclose their donors. Once again, there was no outcry and outrage around this decision from conservatives across the country.
Now fast forward to last week and Chief Roberts’ landmark decision. It appears that since many conservatives didn’t get what they wanted out of the deal, which was to overturn the ACA and embarrass the President, they are in an uproar. You can’t have it both ways. If the Supreme Court was good enough to render decisions that you felt were just and fair prior to the ACA ruling, why can’t the ACA decision be accepted as fair and just?
Conservative radio talk show host Michael Savage went off on Roberts recently, claiming that Roberts’ epilepsy medicine had triggered "cognitive dissociation in what he is saying." Glenn Beck, another conservative radio talk show host, called the chief justice a coward. Many people in the Republican Party have called for Roberts to even be impeached. No particular party should feel that they have ownership over the thoughts and conscience of a Supreme Court justice, even if they were nominated by a President that is a member of their respective party.
You can’t have it both ways, so the only way to get your way is to accept the ruling and play by the same rules everyone else does.