Praised by former President George W. Bush at the time of his Senate confirmation Sept. 22, 2005 as potentially the greatest Supreme Court Chief Justice of all time, 55-year-old Harvard Law School-educated John G. Roberts Jr. threw the Republican Party for a loop upholding the Affordable Care Act. Before Roberts’ June 28 ruling, most legal experts expected Roberts to go along with conservative associate justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Anthony Kennedy to overturn Obama’s landmark national health care legislation. When the dust settled, Roberts wrote the majority opinion upholding the two-year-old law that has been more vilified by Republicans than any piece of legislation in U.S. history. Even occasionally swing-voting, Reagan appointee, 76-year-old Anthony Kennedy voted against the Affordable Care Act.
Roberts’ analysis and ruling will be debated by Supreme Court watchers from now until Kingdom Come. Voting conservatively since joining the Court September 29, 2005, most legal experts expected Roberts to hue the Republican line. What they forgot were Roberts’ own words during his Senate confirmation hearings: “It’s my job to call balls and strikes, not to pitch or bat,” Roberts told the Senate Judiciary Committee Sept. 22, 2005. What Roberts’ GOP colleagues on and off the Court don’t get is that the Harvard-trained lawyer takes his knowledge of the Constitution and impartiality seriously, using his keen legal mind to pass judgment objectively. When confirmed by the Senate July 22, 2005, Roberts swore his loyalty to the Constitution, not the Republican Party. If Roberts’ ruled to uphold Obamacare, it was based on sound legal reasoning—end of story.
Calling him a GOP traitor violates every known principle of judicial impartiality and independence. Roberts’ job was not to support the Republican National Committee or its standard bearer, 65-year-old former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. If the chief justice differed from his conservative colleagues on the Court, it was not due to a faulty read of the Constitution. “I think many people assumed that the Supreme Court would do the work that was necessary in repealing Obamacare,” said Romney, insisting the justices “did not get that job done.” While it’s OK for Romney to hue to the Party line, it’s not OK for Supreme Court justices. If Scalia, Thomas, Alito and Kennedy came to different conclusions than Roberts, then that was their impartial legal judgment, just like progressive justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, Steven Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Roberts saw things differently.
When Romney talks about the Supreme Court doing its job, it’s different than his job of promoting the Republican Party and beating President Barack Obama in November. With the independence of the federal judiciary, no Supeme Court Justice can be pressured by political parties or Super-pac money. “Those who will end up paying the heaviest burden for not buying government-mandated insurance won’t be the wealthiest Americans, but the very middle class families the president claims to defend,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). McConnell doesn’t really know whether or not premiums will go up or down. Volume buying through competitive insurance exchanges under Obamacare is supposed to improve benefits and reduce premiums, not, as McConnell predicts, cost the middle class more. Spewing GOP talking-points doesn’t help inform the public.
Obamacare doesn’t yank quality health care out of the hands of those already satisfied with their coverage. It gives 30 million uninsured citizens a chance to buy affordable health insurance, paralleling coverage of federal employees. What McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) don’t get is that the American public is fed up with the current system that excludes or over-charges individuals seeking coverage while giving group plan subscribers a free pass. Small businesses and individuals are tired of getting gouged by insurers, offering high deductibles, high co-payments and poor coverage. If Obamacare reduces monthly premiums, increases coverage and lowers deductibles and co-payments, then the program’s worth it. If, as McConnell, Boehner and the GOP insist, it does the opposite, then Obama and the Democrats will have hell to pay at the polls.
Republicans can’t have it both ways with Chief Justice Roberts: Calling him a brilliant jurist before his ruling and now blasting him for getting it wrong. Roberts, while recognizing costs involved in national health care, ruled nothing wrong with the plan Constutionally. Romney walks a dangerous line running only on appealing Obamacare when new polls indicate that the public’s evenly divided. If Obamacare wins the public’s approval, Romney will shoot himself in the foot running against the plan. Repealing Obamacare only makes sense if it increases premiums, reduces coverage and further burdens average consumers. If Obamacare lowers premiums, improves benefits and expands coverage, then it won’t take long for the public to warm up. Instead of bashing Roberts, Romney and the GOP should reconsider the possibility that Obamacare is good for the country.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.