“Not A Chance”: Does The Supreme Court Care A Whit About The Public’s Opinion Of The Obamacare Ruling?
As we edge closer to this month’s Supreme Court decision on the future of the Affordable Care Act—or lack of any such future—many liberal pundits are pinning their hopes for a happy ending on Chief Justice John Roberts voting to uphold the law in response to the court’s poor showing in recent polls on the issue of the court’s political objectivity.
Of the many concerns that fall to a Chief Justice—whose name will forever attach to the decisions of the court over which he or she presides—public polls would have to be at the very lowest rung on the list.
A recent New York Times/CBS News poll reveals that public support for SCOTUS is at just 44 percent, with 76 percent believing that the justices, at least some of the time, base their rulings on their personal and political views.
This rather dismal opinion of our one government institution— that is supposed to be high above petty political concerns—prompted former Clinton Labor Secretary, Robert Reich, to write in the Christian Science Monitor –
The immediate question is whether the Chief Justice, John Roberts, understands the tenuous position of the Court he now runs. If he does, he’ll do whatever he can to avoid another 5-4 split on the upcoming decision over the constitutionality of the Obama healthcare law.
My guess is he’ll try to get Anthony Kennedy to join with him and with the four Democratic appointees to uphold the law’s constitutionality, relying primarily on an opinion by Judge Laurence Silberman of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia – a Republican appointee with impeccable conservative credentials, who found the law to be constitutional.
While I would love to believe that Reich has this right, I’m afraid the Secretary is engaging in some very wishful thinking. It’s just not going to happen that way.
This is not to say that the Chief Justice may not, ultimately, find the law to be constitutional.
I have previously suggested that writing off Robert’s vote in support would be a mistake— in no small measure because of his high regard for the opinions of Judge Silberman who did, as Reich reports, vote to uphold Obamacare in the DC Court of Appeals and did so in a highly compelling opinion that cannot be ignored.
Silberman is a major legal influence on conservative judges throughout the nation and, in my opinion, the most likely next appointee to the Supreme Court should a Republican president make the choice.
At the very least, it is reasonable to expect that Justice Roberts might be far more open to considering the less comfortable approach to the law than he might otherwise have been had Judge Silberman seen things differently. In the end, Judge Silberman’s well thought out opinion may turn out to be the difference between Obamacare surviving or not.
But will the Chief Justice ‘tilt’ his vote in a scheme designed to protect the status of the court in the public’s perception?
Not a chance.
If Roberts concludes that the law should be upheld, he may go after Justice Kennedy’s vote, as Secretary Reich suggests, but he would do so with the understanding that on issues as important as the healthcare decision, a 5-4 vote would leave the issue settled—but in a highly unsettling way. When it comes to critical rulings, any Chief Justice greatly prefers that the decision not be carried by a tie-breaker vote as it forever remains more suspect than a 6-3 determination.
We should also keep in mind that The Roberts Court is far from the first controversial Supreme Court in our history. Nor is the current crop of justices the first to experience a bumpy road when it comes to public opinion. We need only recall the huge public outcries engendered by the Warren Court—a version of the Supreme Court which upended the legal status quo in this country in ways never previously seen, enraging many Americans in the process.
Chief Justice Roberts may vote to uphold the Affordable Care Act—including the controversial mandate provisions. I certainly hope that this is the case. And should things go this way, there is no doubt that Roberts’ opinion will go a long way to encourage confidence in our Chief Justice who, by voting to uphold, would reveal himself as a man committed to correctly interpreting the law—even when it may be in opposition to what we suspect might be the dictates of his personal belief.
But if the Chief Justice does this, it will not be the result of some PR effort to raise the level of esteem for the Court among the American public—it will be because he will have correctly understood that, like the law or not, the Affordable Care Act passes Constitutional muster.
By: Rick Ungar, Forbes, June 17, 2012
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