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July 11th, 2012

Chief Justice Roberts casts an unlikely vote

Marc Morial
“The highest court in the land has now spoken. We will continue to implement this law and we’ll work together to improve on it where we can.”

- President Barack Obama

The recent Supreme Court ruling to uphold the Affordable Care Act represents life-altering access to health care for millions of Americans, particularly African Americans who have been twice as likely to lack health insurance. Health Insurance can mean the difference between life and death, and even more often it can mean the difference between financial stability and ruin. Health care costs are responsible for a majority of personal bankruptcies in the United States. The Supreme Court’s decision affirmed that the National Urban League mission, shared by millions of Americans, to build a fairer health care system is not only appropriate and pro-family, but constitutionally valid.

While the Court made the right call, it was once again a narrow 5-4 decision, with the deciding vote surprisingly cast by Chief Justice John G. Roberts. It is no secret that in 2005 the National Urban League sided with then Senator Obama in opposing Roberts’ nomination as Chief Justice. Roberts came to the nomination process as a staunch conservative who had been an outspoken opponent of Affirmative Action, which he had often referred to as “quotas.” He had also spoken out against the “effects test’ in voting rights enforcement, saying that voting rights violations “should not be made too easy to prove.” Up until last week, there was no indication that Roberts would be the only conservative Supreme Court Justice to side with the four liberals on the Court in supporting the most important legislative breakthrough on health care in a generation.

Roberts’ principled decision elevated the stature of the Court by refusing to have it defined as a strictly partisan institution, with Justices reliably casting votes along a rigid liberal/conservative divide. Contrast this statesmanlike leadership with the comments of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, who at various times leading up to the decision had trivialized this important national debate.  Scalia had said it was “unrealistic” to expect the Justices to read the entire bill, joking that the Eighth Amendment protected them from “cruel and unusual punishment.” And he had objected to the individual mandate with a quip that “You can’t make people buy broccoli.” Thanks to Justice Roberts, common sense and the rule of law prevailed.

The Court’s ruling means that 31 million more Americans have access to health insurance and senior citizens will pay less for life-saving medications.  It means that investments in preventive health screenings and community prevention efforts will continue to move forward.
Justice Roberts concluded his majority opinion by saying, “The Framers created a Federal Government of limited powers and assigned to this court the duty of enforcing those limits. The court does so today. But the court does not express any opinion on the wisdom of the Affordable Care Act.  Under the Constitution, that judgment is reserved to the people.”

The Roberts Court has affirmed the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act.  It is now up to the political process and the Court of public opinion to resolve its final fate.

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Reader Response
  • Lee Bines
  • July 13th, 2012 The Republican's last ditch effort to kill President Obama's Affordable Healthcare Act before the public could realize its full features and benefits was dashed in stunning and dramatic fashion last week. Knowing it would be difficult to impossible to claw back benefits after the most popular aspects of the Bill have been implemented, the GOP was relying on a stacked court to do the dirty work.

    This was supposed to be an in your face slam-dunk. Not only was President Obama's signature legislative accomplishment to be thrown back in his face, but the fact that it would been done so on constitutional grounds would have been a historic embarrassment. Considering the President is a constitutionally trained lawyer, the GOP intended to make President Obama look like a complete incompetent during the later stages of the 2012 election.

    Our suspicions were raised during the Obama administration's efforts to bring the 2016 Olympics to Chicago. The glee many expressed on the Right when America lost its bid to Brazil was a hint, that those aligned with the GOP had nothing but malice in their hearts for this administration. Marry that loathsome behavior to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's despicably destructive mission to undermine the Obama Presidency, even if the nation suffered irreparably in the process and one can only imagine how ugly the unstated missions were.

    Leaving Right Wing stooges, political commentators and so called analyst seething over what they felt was the ultimate betrayal, they spent the weekend slamming Chief Justice John Roberts to no end. From the usual Fox News Corp. flunkies to a media blitzkrieg of the airwaves by hardcore conservatives challenging the courts ability to understand the constitution, they relentlessly raged at Judge Roberts decision.

    Fully intent on maintaining the court's independence and integrity, the Chief Justice rendered the only judgement possible under these most extraordinary circumstances. At a time in American history when the people have nearly lost all faith and respect for the three branches of government responsible for their rights, security and quality of life, Justice Roberts made it abundantly clear that his court was in nobody's pocket, his court was above politics and his court was not politically predictable.

    After weighing the spirit, intent and impact of the Affordable Healthcare Act against the arguments of those in opposition, in the final analysis, Justice Roberts

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