Yesterday, the Supreme Court of the United States surprised the nation when Chief Justice John Roberts joined the Court’s five liberals in upholding the mandate citing the healthcare penalty as a “tax” rather than as a penalty. There are many reasons to view the law as a tax and many holes in the majority’s arguments (which we’ll be discussing on Monday). Thus, Roberts seems to be focused on something else entirely, the legacy of his tenure as head of the Court.
Multiple articles have been slowly coming out today, eluding that much of the decision making process was about the nation’s view of the Court rather than the legality of Obamacare.
Following Bush v. Gore, and more recently (and during) Robert’s tenure, and Citizens United validating the free speech rights of groups of people, many liberals were beginning to view the Court as partisan, and they were making sure that the majority of Americans, who do not pay attention to SCOTUS decisions, continued to hear about an activist conservative court in favor of big business. *It is important to note that it has been liberals most recently lambasting the Court as Conservatives have long viewed the Court as a political mechanism for liberals to push policy that they could not otherwise pass through the democratic process.
Obama and his team went straight to work following original oral arguments to ensure that the Court was put on notice that if they crossed him, his attack on the High Court during his 2010 State of the Union address would be nothing. Obama signaled that his law was constitutional and that he would spend three months tearing down the Court’s legitimacy in order to defend his. If the Courts were to disagree with his hodgepodged, reconciliation-passed-on-Christmas Eve-legislative-nightmare that liberals originally boycotted, Roberts would be sorry.
The Administration was successful.
Historians sum up thirty years of SCOTUS jurisprudence and the legacy of a Supreme Court Era by styling its name and decisions on the name of the Chief Justice. Chief Justice Roberts will be remembered for 25-30 years of SCOTUS jurisprudence. He realized that as the Congress grows farther apart on the issues, suits over the bills that they pass, continue to show wider and wider differences. Coming off a pro-second amendment case, pro-First Amendment case, etc. he must have felt no other choice but to play the long game.
The Court was beginning to appear partisan, Roberts must have believed, and the left was making sure that the citizenry knew it. Roberts seemed pressured to find a solution on Obamacare. It is doubtful that Roberts agrees with the law and it seems even less likely that Roberts initially believed the law to be a tax on its face. However, he got there out of what he believed to be necessity. He also didn’t leave it as a total loss.
In the mold of John Marshall, he gave the President a decision to be happy about, but not before burying a ticking time bomb within it. Roberts not only lead the Court, in limiting the Commerce Clause power of the Congress which, until now seemed limitless, Roberts also put the onerous for future mandates on the Democratic Congress to label it a “tax” if it is to survive in Court.
This effectively means that if Democrats ever try to pass another mandate, they will have to sell it as a tax, something this Administration did not have to do. The D’s won round two on healthcare, and it was a monumental victory that cannot be downplayed, but the long game is to put the kabosh on future mandates.
I am certainly disappointed with Roberts decision today and proud of Justice Kennedy, but Roberts, like he did in the monumental Citizens United Case, has proven himself to be the ultimate chess player thinking ten moves ahead. I hope they enjoy it because they may have just witnessed the last mandate of our lifetime.