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Not the usual suspect

글쓴이 : 이명동 날짜 : 2012-07-04 (수) 23:03:28


On Thursday, 6/28/12, the Supreme Court announced its rulings on the health care reform, the Affordable Care Act, passed by the U.S. Congress, on 12/24/09 in the Senate and 3/21/10 in the House and signed by the President on 3/23/10. The ruling was arguably one of the most important opinion in recent years, and certainly in the Roberts' Court. With so much on the balance, it was a very anxiously awaited decision.

 

▲ Chief Justice John Roberts <www.en.wikipedia.org>

Everybody agrees that U. S. has to improve its healthcare system while proposing many different ways of how. Many Presidents had tried to come up with a comprehensive healthcare policy for a very long time but failed. The most recent one was by the President Clinton, and it almost cost his presidency. Hillary had become very unpopular because she was one of the main players in their try to reform healthcare.

President Obama made the Affordable Care Act the centerpiece of his presidency in spite of the objection by the chief of staff at the time, Rahm Emannuel. The passage of the law was very difficult and tortuous, but the Obama team got it done. The Supreme Court' decision could have made the hard won centerpiece the trash centerpiece. The anxiously awaited decision was, indeed, very significant one with multiple implications.

The healthcare reform is an evolving project, and the Affordable Care Act is just a marker in the process, albeit a significant one. Through the political process and the deliberation by the Court, a wonderful chance to understand how political and legal minds work is presented, and that, in turn, gives an opportunity to understand the U.S. Some of the important concepts argued are the proper role of government in our life, the limits and extent of state and/or Federal power, the separation of powers by the three branches of the government, judicial restraint, and how to Interpret the Constitution.

 

www.en.wikipedia.org

To make things more interesting still, there are the personal intrigue among the justices. This whole episode made it a very exciting drama in real time with real people. Of course, to make things more interesting, a big part of this drama was provided by the People watching the drama.

Some of the key words in this drama were/are commerce clause, mandate, penalties, taxes, severability; judicial restraint, modesty, and overreaching, leadership, wobbly, and changing mind.

The prevailing sentiment was that Justice Anthony Kennedy would be the decider in a 5/4 decision. The Time magazine had Justice Anthony Kennedy on the cover of 6/18/12 edition as the decider. The stage was set, the prime suspect was Kennedy, but John Roberts stunned the world. He had sided only once with the liberal justices and never in a 5/4 decision, before. The Affordable Care Act was the first time he was the decider with the liberal justices, hence the great surprise.

The question everybody is asking is why, how. The legal reason is, yes, in the majority opinion, but the curiosity is in the reason behind the legal reason. Speculation on his motive is rampant, and people are asking him why. His answer is 'no comment' with a smile.

 

www.en.wikipedia.org

Last March, there were the three days of oral arguments in the Supreme Court on the case, and, at the time, Chief Justice Roberts seemed to side with the conservative side. In the meantime, there were enormous attention paid to the Court and the case. According to the CBS report based on the leaked information, the word, wobbly, was applied to Roberts by the conservative justices around the time in May.

As the Chief Justice, Roberts is known to pay attention to the media and the public opinion unlike Justice Thomas who is alleged not to read even newspapers concerning the case in the hand. Procedurally, majority decision was due on 6/1/12 and the dissenters' response in writing due on 6/15/12; the announcement of the ruling due on 6/28/12. 

In the majority opinion, Roberts stated the following. "The framers created a federal government of limited powers, and assigned to this Court the duty of enforcing those limits. The Court does so today. But the court does not express any opinion on the wisdom of the Affordable Care Act. Under the Constitution, that judgement is reserved to the people." This statement represents a philosophy of judicial restraint; the Court decides on the legality of a law passed by the Congress, and signed by the President not on the merits of a law.

On the other hand the dissent stated the following. "The fragmentation of power produced by the structure of our government is central to liberty, and when we destroy it, we place liberty in peril. Today's decision should have vindicated, should have taught, this truth; instead our judgement today has disregarded it." The dissent seems to say that the Court has the duty to examine the liberty inferred in a law, and has the right to strike down the law if limiting the liberty of the American people. It seems to go beyond the examination of the legality of the law.

The same Constitution, but very different interpretation. Recently, there was the interesting observation that people make up their mind at the emotional and gut level, and use the reason and logic to justify their emotional decisions. Well, Roberts with smile and 'no comment' became the 'not the usual suspect.' The episode continues with its far reaching implications.

 

▲ The Roberts Court, 2010 Back row (left to right): Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen G. Breyer, Samuel A. Alito, and Elena Kagan. Front row (left to right): Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, Chief Justice John Roberts, Anthony Kennedy, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. <www.en.wikipedia.org>


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