Chief Justice John Roberts is not the duplicitous traitor that many on right think he is for his deciding vote on the Constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, commonly called ObamaCare. Those who think he has violated his own philosophy need to take a closer look at the nature of the Supreme Court and how conservatives approach the judicial process. This is not to say that I agree with his decision, because I do not, but he adhered to conservative principles by limiting the power of the government and practicing judicial restraint.
ObamaCare is definitely an unpopular piece of legislation; the majority of Americans feel that it violates their inalienable rights. I fundamentally agree with them on that position. However, the Supreme Court exists as an independent institution and the justices have lifetime tenures so that popular opinion does not determine whether a bill is Constitutional or not. The majority of Americans supported de jure segregation of the races during the first half of the twentieth century, but the Warren court struck down those laws in Brown v. Board of Education. The Court went against the popular opinion to decide whether segregation laws were Constitutionally based on their merit. Popular opinion should not sway the courts– only the law and the Constitution should make court decisions.
It is important to discuss aspects of Justice Robert’s decision that show he not as perfidious as some claim. First, Justice Roberts wrote the opinion himself so that in actuality he limited the Commerce Clause of the Constitution to only commerce that currently exists. By ruling that the individual mandate is Constitutional because it exists as a tax prevented the federal government from gaining the type of power liberals want to allow it. In effect, he halted the power of the government and prevented the state from becoming plenipotentiary, which is the quintessential debate between conservatives and liberals concerning this bill. The left believes that the government should have the power to compel its citizens to do anything the left wants it to do. This is important for the conservative cause because he limited the federal government’s power to tax, which it already possessed.
Second, he practiced the conservative principle of judicial restraint by not voting merely on whether he thought the law was good policy or not, like liberal justices tend to do. He worked within the confines of a legalist paradigm that accepts or rejects a law based on the arguments within the court. President Obama may have repeatedly declared that the individual mandate was not a tax; and through the government lawyers’ sophistry, they effectively argued that in front of the court. This should reflect more poorly on President Obama than it should on Justice Roberts. Obama and the governments’ lawyers should have been honest about the situation and not argued that the individual mandate was a tax in the court because they did not believe it was. When the lawyers argued that, though, it meant that the Justices had to take it into their opinion. Because Justice Roberts believed the power to tax is within the bounds of our Constitution, he followed his interpretation of the text to its logical conclusion. He turned the issue to the people to decide the efficacy of the law and whether they want it or not. It might be difficult to see, but he adhered to conservative principles in his own way.
Yet Justice Roberts have now given conservatives the rallying cry they need to win the presidency and create a Republican majority in Congress. President Obama will now have to accept Justice Roberts’ interpretation or undermine his own argument for the bill; he will have to acknowledge that the bill is a middle-class tax increase. Roberts’ ruling definitively demonstrates that the Democratic Party is the party of increased taxes for the majority of Americans, not just those evil rich people in the top 1%. The decision now rests with the Republicans in Congress to lead the charge against expanding the government and creating even more debt for the country. Republicans will have much easier time now replacing the Affordable Care Act with free-market based solutions that lower health care costs while increasing coverage for all Americans. As President of the Heritage Foundation Ed Feulner says, “There are permanent victories, but there are no permanent defeats.”
Treston Wheat | Georgetown University | @TrestonWheat