Thursday, June 28, 2012

Supreme Court's Get-Well Card

To the body politic in a near-coma, Justices send a message that will take days to decipher and deconstruct, but the Hallmark version is a 5-4 get-well card for the health care law, surprisingly signed by John Roberts, who in six years has never before joined his liberal colleagues on a major issue.

“The Court does not express any opinion on the wisdom of the Affordable Care Act,” the Chief Justice writes, noting that the individual mandate “need not be read to do more than impose a tax...Because the Constitution permits such a tax, it is not our role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness.”

Is this “the vote that saved Obama?” Perhaps, but more to the point, is it the vote to keep America from sailing off a partisan cliff with the Supreme Court in the driver’s seat?
Roberts, with a long tenure ahead of him, has swerved to avert that disaster, reaffirming a now-forgotten political axiom--that only those with strong credentials have the freedom to make such switches.

In the 1970s Nixon went to China, a move that would have set off national howling, if made by any Democrat or even liberal Republican in the White House. Until Watergate derailed him, Nixon was on track to upgrade his legacy.

No one should believe that, from here on, John Roberts will change his ideological stripes but, for the politically beleaguered, it can be enough that he has, for whatever reasons, kept health care reform from being a dagger to the heart of Obama’s reelection chances and put the issue back into the political arena, where it belongs.

Now Mitt Romney will have to persuade voters that he is their only hope for salvation to scuttle the kind of health care reforms that he himself championed as a governor.

Update: The Chief Justice is seen as “a political genius” in having it both ways:

“By voting with the liberals to uphold the Affordable Care Act, Roberts has put himself above partisan reproach. No one can accuse Roberts of ruling as a movement conservative. He’s made himself bulletproof against insinuations that he’s animated by party allegiances.

“But by voting with the conservatives on every major legal question before the court, he nevertheless furthered the major conservative projects before the court--namely, imposing limits on federal power. And by securing his own reputation for impartiality, he made his own advocacy in those areas much more effective. If, in the future, Roberts leads the court in cases that more radically constrain the federal government’s power to regulate interstate commerce, today’s decision will help insulate him from criticism. And he did it while rendering a decision that Democrats are applauding.”

Perhaps the GOP should have run him for president.

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