Chief Justice John Roberts Cements His Name In American History
In one of the more dramatic days in modern American history for the Supreme Court, a narrow decision, by a 5-4 vote, upheld the signature legislative achievement of President Obama. But outside of the normal intrigue and fierce partisan debate that this health care law has initiated, the more stunning development was not the narrow 5-4 decision, but who cast the final and decisive 5th vote. Since oral arguments concluded in March, speculation immediately proceeded through out political and legal circles accross the U.S. Most felt that the law and especially, the individual mandate was in serious jeopardy of being struck down and labeled unconstitutional. Supporters of the law had some withering hope in Justice Anthony Kennedy, who has been described as the “swing vote” of the 9 Justices, in upholding the whole law, but oral arguments seemed to suggest he had reservations about the constitutionality of the law. In fact, as of last night, websites such as Intrade suggested the individual mandate was essentially dead and gave it about an 84% chance of being ruled unconstitutional. Even ardent supporters, felt the law was in jeopardy given the conservative make-up of the court.
And yet, today we learned that the Supreme Court has ruled the Affordable Care Act or by common spoken words of detractors, Obamacare, constitutional. And the deciding vote was not Justice Kennedy, the supposed ‘swing voter.’ The deciding vote was done by none other than Chief Justice John Roberts. This vote by Roberts has sent the media, conservatives, liberals, tea partiers, and pundits into a twittering-facebookeaing frenzy. It has added drama to an issue that was already loaded with it. Furthermore, it was a pivotal moment in American history and the man at the center of this vote, from all indicative reports, understands that history.
Throughout this process of deliberation in the Supreme Court, a subtle feeling and whisper parralled all punditry surrounding the possible outcomes; the whisper centered on conservative Chief Justice John Roberts. Many felt Roberts would be compelled to vote vote in favor of constitutionality of this law for a variety of reasons outside of the insurmountable legal opinion that this law is, in fact, constitutional. From those familiar with Roberts, including his old Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe (who also interestingly enough, taught President Obama) the feeling seemed strangely optimistic he would vote in favor of constitutionality. Gestures were made towards Roberts, suggesting he uniquely understood history and was aware of how political the court had become and his own comments would seem to infer that this revelation bothered him. Unlike the other 8 Justice’s, Roberts has his name and legacy on this court. This court and their rulings, will encompass his legacy and place in American history. Initial reports further suggested, Roberts struggled with this decision. Most likely, Roberts wanted to be loyal to his conservative Justices and friends, but he had to weigh that loyalty against the institution, which now bears his name; The Robert’s Court.
So can we conclude Robert’s made this decision simply for the enrichment of his legacy and the perceived legitimacy of the court? No, I believe Robert’s truly felt this law was constitutional, and for those who have read parts of his opinion will note, he weakened the commerce clause by promoting the mandate as a tax.
After today’s ruling, Chief Justice Robert’s, regardless of how you feel about the President’s health care plan, has upheld not only the law itself, but the integrity of the Supreme Court. In addition, he will ensure himself in U.S. history as a Chief Justice that refused to bend to his loyal political pressures and voted his historical conscience.
This singular act, has made Chief Justice John Roberts an historic American figure, who will be studied by generations for hundreds of years.