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Tim Cahill: Why John Roberts Handled the Obamacare Decision Perfectly

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


Tim Cahill, GoLocalWorcester MINDSETTER™

When the United States Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of Obamacare, pundits from the right and from the left found fault with Chief Justice John Roberts.  In siding with those on the left who favored keeping the law intact, Justice Roberts was accused of selling out the conservative cause for which he was supposedly appointed to uphold.  Here are my five reasons why he deserves both applause and a gold medal for his decision.

Number 1:  He found a way to alienate those on both sides of the divide. This usually means that you got it just right.  In this hyper partisan country we live in it seems that the only good decision is one where you take sides-either liberal or conservative.  Roberts instead chose the middle course.  Keep a law that was overwhelmingly approved by both houses of Congress and signed by the President while placing definitions and restrictions that satisfy neither side.

Number 2: He defined the mandate for what it is: a tax.  With one master stroke, Roberts did away with the spin that surrounded the bill's signature item.  Democrats were, and still are, unwilling to call the mandate to buy health insurance a tax.  Not because they believe that it isn't, but because calling it a tax would be  politically unpopular.  President Obama and Democrats have promised over and over again not to tax middle-class Americans.  Roberts' ruling determined that is exactly what they have done.

Number 3: He defined the limits to congressional power with regards to the Commerce Clause.  Justice Roberts, in ruling that the mandate is in fact a tax, and not a federally mandated order to purchase something that individuals may not want or need, has limited Congress's future ability to mandate behavior through the Commerce Clause.  Although he pleased liberals by keeping the law intact, he also found a way to please conservatives by limiting the reach of Washington DC into the lives of average Americans.

Number 4: He upheld the integrity of the Court. Some have complained (mostly the right) that, had Justice Roberts not been the Chief Justice of the court, he would have sided with the conservatives and voted to overturn the law.  Their argument is that he sided with the liberals because the decision could not be seen in the eyes of the public or the media as legitimate if split along idealogical lines.  So many of the courts' recent decisions have been split along conservative/liberal lines that the public was losing faith with the objectivity of the court.  If that was his reasoning then it was right.  People are tuning out and turning on those who simply believe everything is either black or white, liberal or conservative, republican or democrat.  His decision made most people think rather than simply react.

Number 5: He left the ultimate decision for the voters to decide in November.  This is my favorite reason.  Instead of taking the decision away from policy makers and those duly elected by the people to make decisions he has deftly placed the decision where it belongs-with the people.  No more hiding behind spin for Democrats.  The healthcare law is a huge tax on the middle-class. No more hoping the Supreme Court will do the dirty work for Republicans.  Taking away health care from those who have it because of the law will be easier said than done.  Will it be taking young adults off their parents plan or denying patients with pre-existing conditions insurance coverage?

John Roberts has described the role of judges as umpires in a baseball game. Their job is to call balls and strikes, not determine the outcome of the game. Here, the Chief Justice has done that. By defining what Congress and the President have done with health care, as opposed to overturning it, he has kept the court to its defined role. Now it is up to the voters to decide in November what level of control they want their government to have over their lives and their health.


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