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“Keeping The Faith”: Why The Supreme Court Will Uphold The Constitutionality Of Obamacare

Predictions are always hazardous when it comes to the economy, the weather, and the Supreme Court. I won’t get near the first two right now, but I’ll hazard a guess on what the Court is likely to decide tomorrow: It will uphold the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) by a vote of 6 to 3.

Three reasons for my confidence:

First, Chief Justice John Roberts is — or should be — concerned about the steadily-declining standing of the Court in the public’s mind, along with the growing perception that the justices decide according to partisan politics rather than according to legal principle. The 5-4 decision in Citizen’s United, for example, looked to all the world like a political rather than a legal outcome, with all five Republican appointees finding that restrictions on independent corporate expenditures violate the First Amendment, and all four Democratic appointees finding that such restrictions are reasonably necessary to avoid corruption or the appearance of corruption. Or consider the Court’s notorious decision in Bush v. Gore.

The Supreme Court can’t afford to lose public trust. It has no ability to impose its will on the other two branches of government: As Alexander Hamilton once noted, the Court has neither the purse (it can’t threaten to withhold funding from the other branches) or the sword (it can’t threaten police or military action). It has only the public’s trust in the Court’s own integrity and the logic of its decisions — both of which the public is now doubting, according to polls. As Chief Justice, Roberts has a particular responsibility to regain the public’s trust. Another 5-4 decision overturning a piece of legislation as important as Obamacare would further erode that trust.

It doesn’t matter that a significant portion of the public may not like Obamacare. The issue here is the role and institutional integrity of the Supreme Court, not the popularity of a particular piece of legislation. Indeed, what better way to show the Court’s impartiality than to affirm the constitutionality of legislation that may be unpopular but is within the authority of the other two branches to enact?

Second, Roberts can draw on a decision by a Republican-appointed and highly-respected conservative jurist, Judge Laurence Silberman, who found Obamacare to be constitutional when the issue came to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The judge’s logic was lucid and impeccable — so much so that Roberts will try to lure Justice Anthony Kennedy with it, to join Roberts and the four liberal justices, so that rather than another 5-4 split (this time on the side of the Democrats), the vote will be 6 to 3.

Third and finally, Roberts (and Kennedy) can find adequate Supreme Court precedent for the view that the Commerce Clause of the Constitution gives Congress and the President the power to regulate health care — given that heath-care coverage (or lack of coverage) in one state so obviously affects other states; that the market for health insurance is already national in many respects; and that other national laws governing insurance (Social Security and Medicare, for example) require virtually everyone to pay (in these cases, through mandatory contributions to the Social Security and Medicare trust funds).

Okay, so I’ve stuck my neck out. We’ll find out tomorrow how far.

 

By: Robert Reich, Robert Reich Blog, June 27, 2012

June 28, 2012 Posted by | U. S. Supreme Court | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Fragility Of The 3rd Branch Of Government”: Why The Public’s Growing Disdain For The Supreme Court May Help Obamacare

The public’s growing disdain of the Supreme Court increases the odds that a majority will uphold the constitutionality of Obamacare.

The latest New York Times CBS Poll shows just 44 percent of Americans approve the job the Supreme Court is doing. Fully three-quarters say justices’ decisions are sometimes influenced by their personal political views.

The trend is clearly downward. Approval of the Court reached 66 percent in the late 1980s, and by 2000 had slipped to around 50 percent.

As the Times points out, the decline may stem in part from Americans’ growing distrust in recent years of major institutions in general and the government in particular.

But it’s just as likely to reflect a sense that the Court is more political, especially after it divided in such partisan ways in the 5-4 decisions Bush v. Gore (which decided the 2000 presidential race) and Citizen’s United (which in 2010 opened the floodgates to unlimited campaign spending).

Americans’ diminishing respect for the Court can be heard on the right and left of our increasingly polarized political spectrum.

A few months ago, while a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, Newt Gingrich stated that the political branches were “not bound” by the Supreme Court. Gingrich is known for making bizarre claims. The remarkable thing about this one was the silence with which it was greeted, not only by other Republican hopefuls but also by Democrats.

Last week I was on a left-leaning radio talk show whose host suddenly went on a riff about how the Constitution doesn’t really give the Supreme Court the power to overturn laws for being unconstitutional, and it shouldn’t have that power.

All this is deeply dangerous for the Court, and for our system of government.

Almost 225 years ago, Alexander Hamilton, writing in the Federalist (Number 78, June 14, 1788) noted the fragility of our third branch of government, whose power rests completely on public respect for its judgement:

The Executive not only dispenses the honors, but holds the sword of the community. The legislature not only commands the purse, but prescribes the rules by which the duties and rights of every citizen are to be regulated. [Yet lacking sword or purse, the judiciary] is in continual jeopardy of being overpowered, awed, or influenced by its co-ordinate branches; and that as nothing can contribute so much to its firmness and independence as permanency in office, this quality may therefore be justly regarded as an indispensable ingredient in its constitution, and, in a great measure, as the citadel of the public justice and the public security.

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.

 

By: Robert Reich, Robert Reich Blog, June 8, 2012

June 10, 2012 Posted by | Affordable Care Act | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“In Text And History”: Founding Fathers Would Approve Of National Healthcare Policy

Our Constitution’s text and history demonstrate that the national healthcare crisis—in which tens of millions of Americans lack access to quality, affordable care—is the sort of national problem that the framers of our founding charter wanted the federal government to have the power to solve.

Our Constitution was drafted in 1787 “in Order to form a more perfect Union”—both more perfect than the British tyranny against which the Founding generation had revolted and more perfect than the flawed Articles of Confederation under which Americans had lived for a decade since declaring independence. George Washington and the other delegates to the Constitutional Convention shared a conviction that the Constitution must establish a national government of substantial power, in contrast to the extremely weak central government of the Articles, which was so dysfunctional that Washington thought it nearly cost us victory in the Revolutionary War. (George Washington was also apparently fine with government mandates—he signed into law the 1792 Militia Act, which required young men to outfit themselves with a musket, knapsack, and, in some cases, a serviceable horse.)

Under our enduring Constitution, Congress has the express constitutional authority to regulate interstate commerce—the healthcare industry comprises nearly 20 percent of our nation’s economy—and tax and spend for the general welfare, as well as the broad power to pass laws that help execute these specific grants of authority.

Given the Constitution’s grant of significant authority to the federal government to act in the interests of the country as a whole, it is no surprise that a majority of the lower court judges who have ruled on the healthcare law have upheld it, including prominent conservative judges. Reagan-appointee Judge Laurence Silberman on the D.C. federal appeals court explained that the attacks on the law have no support “in either the text of the Constitution or Supreme Court precedent.” Another conservative appeals court judge, Jeffrey S. Sutton—who clerked for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia—explained that whether you think the law is good policy or not, it clearly passes constitutional muster.

If the Supreme Court Justices are faithful to the Constitution’s text and history, principles of federalism, and precedent—including decisions authored or joined by some of the current conservative Justices—the Court should conclude the healthcare law is constitutional.

 

By: Elizabeth Wydra, U. S. News and World Report, March 26, 2012

March 27, 2012 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Constitution | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Power To Regulate Commerce”: Constitution, Court’s Precedent On Affordable Care Act’s Side

In the words of Judge Laurence Silberman, a leading conservative who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush, the lawsuits challenging the Affordable Care Act have no basis “in either the text of the Constitution or Supreme Court precedent.” And Silberman is right. The Constitution gives the United States power to “regulate commerce … among the several states,” and there is simply no question that a law which regulates one sixth of the nation’s economy regulates the nation’s commerce.

This not a particularly new idea. As Chief Justice John Marshall put it nearly two centuries ago, there is “no sort of trade” that the words “regulate Commerce” do not apply to, and these words give the United States “full power over the thing to be regulated.” The Affordable Care Act regulates trade in healthcare services, and thus America has the full power to regulate this important market.

In challenging the Affordable Care Act, the law’s opponents seek an unprecedented expansion of judicial power that would eradicate all limits on what the nine unelected judges on the Supreme Court can do. Because their entire legal argument has no basis in the Constitution itself, it eliminates any bounds on what judges can do to impose their will on the American people. If judges are free to ignore the Constitution just this once, they can do it whenever they want, and there will no longer be any limits whatsoever on judicial discretion.

In other words, if judges have the power to strike down the individual mandate, there is nothing preventing the Supreme Court from forcing you to eat broccoli.

 

By: Ian Millhiser, U. S. News and World Report, March 26, 2012

March 27, 2012 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Constitution | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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