The nation’s final arbiter has had the final say on the 2010 health care reform law — despite Republicans’ argument that it isn’t, it is legal, and despite Democrats’ arguments that it isn’t, it is a federal tax.
And in making its decision Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court has limited Congress’s power under the commerce clause and said that the federal government could not cut off Medicaid funding to a state that refuses to expand its Medicaid program to comply with the law.
It also showed once again that no matter how a justice is pegged as this or that ideologically by politicians and pundits, there’s always the opportunity for a surprise.
That surprise came when Chief Justice John Roberts, whose nomination to the high court was strongly opposed by then-Sen. Barack Obama because of Roberts’ conservative views, turned out to be the swing vote that affirmed the legality of Obama’s signature domestic legislation. Justice Anthony Kennedy is usually the justice who makes the deciding vote between two distinct ideological camps — conservatives Roberts, Samuel Alito, Clarence Roberts and Antonin Scalia, and liberals Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor — but he was solidly against the law in all three arguments made by the Obama administration.
Roberts joined with the conservative justices in rejecting the argument that Congress had authority under the Interstate Commerce Clause to impose the health insurance mandate in the law that will require Americans to buy health insurance or pay a fine that is to be collected by the Internal Revenue Service. But he joined with the quartet of liberal justices on the administration’s alternative argument that the law was legal because it was a tax.
Roberts came under fire Thursday from conservatives who felt he had betrayed them, but that criticism ignores the role of the court. It does not decide what is in the best interests of the nation, but whether the question before it is constitutionally sound. There are justices who give the impression that regardless of the validity of the argument that is made, their political beliefs matter more. The Supreme Court wasn’t tasked with deciding whether its members liked the law, only whether all or parts of it were constitutionally sound. Roberts’ conclusions might be questioned, but his integrity shouldn’t be.
So, where do things go from here? Obama has already made the assertion that the politics over the Affordable Health Care Act should be put behind everyone, which isn’t going to happen. The law will continue to roll out, but House Republicans are planning a vote in July to repeal it. That will likely pass the House in a party-line vote, then fail in the Senate, also by a party-line vote.
Obama will campaign on the fact that his legislation passed constitutional muster. Mitt Romney, Obama’s Republican opponent, will continue to campaign against the law, which the GOP can now legitimately characterize as one of the biggest new taxes ever imposed on the American public.
And the states that have put off setting up insurance exchanges will have to hurry to do so or sit back and let the federal government step in and do it.
Meanwhile, this particular battle over health reform is over, but — depending on how things shake out in November — others are just over the horizon.