Conservatives talk a good game about “judicial restraint” when it suits their purposes. But last week John Roberts, the conservative chief justice of the US Supreme Court, actually practiced it.Roberts cast the deciding fifth vote to declare that the Affordable Care Act, aka “Obamacare,” is constitutional. He held that Congress didn’t have the power to impose a mandate on individuals to buy health insurance under the interstate commerce clause, but that it could constitutionally impose a tax penalty (as the law provides) on people who refuse to buy it.
Roberts’s vote stunned a lot of people. He had been expected to side with the right-wing Gang of Three – Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito – with Justice Anthony Kennedy providing the swing vote one way or the other. After the ruling Roberts predictably was branded a turncoat by conservatives across the country.
But Roberts was following a sound, conservative constitutional principle – that the Supreme Court shouldn’t strike down laws Congress makes out of partisanship or simply because it thinks those laws are bad policy, but only if it finds that Congress has exceeded its constitutional powers.
The reaction of the rabid right to the health care ruling was amusing – and instructive. Dozens of people commented on right-wing blogs and websites that they were so disgusted they were going to move to Canada, forgetting (or more likely never knowing) that Canada has had “socialized medicine” for decades. (Rush Limbaugh had already said that if Obamacare was ever enacted he’d go to Costa Rica. Don’t let the door hit ya, Rushbo.)
Although he didn’t threaten to leave the country (why would he, when he’s got what amounts to a lifetime gig including free health care coverage?) the 2nd District’s Rep. Greg Walden joined the right-wing chorus blasting Obamacare, repeating the standard lie that it will take away people’s right to choose their own doctors and promising to repeal it and replace it with a “patient-centered health care system” – whatever the hell that may mean.
Aside from its staggering dishonesty, Walden’s reaction is appalling because he represents (or claims to) the poorest congressional district in Oregon. The upholding of the law means the low-income residents of Walden’s district, and throughout Oregon, will be able to get health care without taking their chances in the present lottery system because there will be federal funds to close the gap between what they need and what the state can afford. As Oregon Health Authority Director Bruce Goldberg said, “Under the Affordable Care Act, the health care lottery for low-income Oregonians goes away and everyone wins.”
How the Supreme Court decision will play out in the presidential election is the $64 billion question. But now that the strawman of its (alleged) unconstitutionality has been removed, at least both parties will be forced to debate it on its merits.
In the meantime, Chief Justice Roberts and his four colleagues in the majority have earned the GLASS SLIPPER. And Greg Walden and the rest of the right-wing gasbags get THE BOOT for their slimy tactics.