Chief Justice John Roberts by AFP Getty Images
Chief Justice John Roberts
By Bob Gaydos
So, John Roberts, hero of the left wing and savior of Obamacare. Who wuddda thunk it
Actually, the chief justice's law school professor, for one. Laurence Tribe, who taught Roberts as well as President Barack Obama at Harvard Law School, opined on Tuesday, two days before the historic Supreme Court ruling was revealed, that he felt Roberts would vote to uphold the law, as much to reinforce the image of the court as an apolitical neutral umpire as to rule on the law's constitutionality.
In an interview on MSNBC, Tribe said, "I think that the chief justice is likely to be concerned about the place of the court in history and is not likely to want the court to continue to be as deeply and politically divided. Doesn't mean he will depart from his philosophy. You can be deeply conservative and believe the affordable care act is completely consistent with the United States Constitution."
Which is pretty much what Roberts did, siding with the four so-called liberal justices to preserve the major legislative victory of Obama"s presidency. Of course, the airwaves and the blogosphere exploded Thursday as anyone with a law degree and an opinion on the Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act and a means of transmitting that opinion to a large audience explained why Roberts did what he did. Or, as many Republican politicians did, to call Roberts a traitor to their cause. Safe to say, many of the latter group aren't too concerned with the nuances of judicial restraint and co-equal sharing of power among three branches of government.
I don't have a law degree and I don't belong to any political party, but, without pretending to read Roberts' mind, some things seem obvious in the wake of this ruling:
-- Obama got a huge boost in his re-election campaign, since repealing the health care act as unconstitutional was all Republicans have talked about for months. Case closed. It's constitutional. Spin it any way you want, the president wins this one.
-- Republicans are now going to have to find an actual plan to replace Obama's if they want to continue their argument. House Speaker John Boehner seems not to care about that. All he keeps talking about is repealing the act, which the Senate will never do. Plus, with so many provisions in it that Americans like (no refusal for pre-existing conditions, kids on parents" plan until age 26), that will not be easy for any Congress.
-- Mitt Romney, who actually has talked about replacing the health care act after he repeals it as president, seems to be stuck with offering up his own plan, which he introduced as governor of Massachusetts. That plan, of course, is what Obama's plan and an initial conservative plan, was modeled on. So Romney continues to talk in circles of fog and disingenuousness.
-- Roberts obviously possesses a chief justice's concern for the way his court is viewed. He does not, for example, think justices should be offering strong political views on issues that are not contained in the case on which they are ruling. (Justice Antonin Scalia, who acts as if his life term gives him the right to pontificate and criticize -- as he recently did on Obama's order sparing tens of thousands of young immigrants from deportation -- obviously doesn't get the neutral umpire view.) Roberts both criticized the Obama health plan (an overreaching regulation of commerce by requiring insurance) and ruled on its constitutionality -- it's a legitimate tax, even though Democrats didn't have the guts to call it that.
-- By stressing that the court's role is not to judge the law, but to decide if it can be upheld and, if so, to do so, Roberts demonstrated control of his court and reassured some Americans who have had an increasingly dim view of it since Bush v. Gore. It falls to Congress the power to pass laws, he reminds us, whether they seem wise or not. This is a definition of judicial restraint.
-- Spinning the 5-4 ruling as a conservative victory for the future because Congress is warned off trying to expand use of the commerce clause to regulate behavior and Republicans will be energized to actually replace the Obama health plan with one of their own doesn't come close to the overwhelming victory it gives an incumbent president seeking reelection right now. If I'm a politician, I take that trade anytime.
So, Chief Justice John Roberts, intentionally or not, hero of the left wing.