Was today's ruling a victory for justice over corporate power? Did Chief Justice John Roberts rise above partisan differences because that's where an honest reading of the law took him?
Nah. The majority on this Supreme Court is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Corporate America. Call it SCOTUS tm Inc., and it's brought to you by the same fine folks that gave you Citizens United and Bush v. Gore. John Roberts is its CEO, not its chief justice.
The point isn't to reinforce anybody's cynicism. The point is to act more effectively on behalf of our ideals, by seeing things as they really are.
It was a shrewd move. Remember, as CEO of SCOTUS tm Inc., John Roberts is running the subsidiary of a large conglomerate. I've had that job myself, and trust me: you've got to please the parent or you're out of business.
By casting the decisive vote (who knows whether it really was the deciding vote, or whether the right-wing majority made it look that way) Roberts acted in the best interests of corporate conservatism, for-profit healthcare companies, and -- most important of all -- of the far-right political force which is today's Republican Party.
He had three options: Strike down a signature piece of Democratic legislation in its entirety, which would look highly partisan; strike down the individual mandate, which would look even worse since it was a conservative Republican idea; or uphold the law in a way that's designed to do maximum political damage to the Democrats and protect the Court's current corporate status.
Weighing the Options
Striking down the law would have cost the Court immeasurably in what corporate accountants call "good will. "It would have widened and deepened the common (and accurate) perception that this Court's majority acts in a partisan, ideological, and pro-corporate manner, regardless of the law. It would have polluted the Court's brand even further.
It also would have given new momentum to the single-payer movement, galvanized Democrats, alienated independents, and strengthened the argument against electing a Republican president who would provide more justices in favor of Bush v. Gore type decisions.
What about striking down the individual mandate alone? The mandate has provided great rhetorical fodder for the right (we were among the few to predict it would, or to accurately predict the political impact of this law), so why deprive them of such a good political tool? It was never in the GOP's partisan interests to do that. It would have left the bill's most popular provisions intact, giving the Democrats a stronger bill to run on and weakening the GOP's case against it.
Besides, it's a great boon for health insurers. I never believed the court would strike down the mandate and leave the law's other provisions standing. That would be an actuarial nightmare for the insurance industry. They'd never tolerate a move like that.
By defending the law, Roberts made the right decision for Corporate America. He was also able to severely limit the federal government's ability to regulate commerce, which I believe is a major setback in a number of legal areas that's likely to provide a lot of benefit to corporations in the years to come. Since I'm not an attorney, I'll leave that analysis to others. But I'm surprised that aspect of the ruling hasn't received more attention.
Stock prices in the for-profit hospital industry soared, rising 7 percent in heavy trading immediately after the Court ruling. Stocks for the nation's largest health insurers barely moved, despite what must have been some heavy pre-Court betting that the conservative majority would overturn the entire law.