June 28th, 2012What Disaster?by Dena Hunt
Reaction to the Supreme Court ruling upholding Obama’s health care law is just as loud and swift as everybody predicted. On one extreme Republican end, lots of apocalyptic hallucinations are popping up; on the other extreme Democratic end, we see the messianic hallucinations of 2008 re-awakened.
The decision was momentous, yes, but disastrous? In my admittedly limited understanding, I see Justice Roberts’ deciding vote as salvific, not by its yes-or-no, but by the reasoning behind it. Many conservatives are already denouncing him as a traitor to conservatism, but wait a minute. The fact that he insisted on writing the decision himself is significant. Paraphrased, he said that it was not the Court’s business to rule on the relative “quality” of congressional law or the governmental policy that produced it. The Court does not determine whether a law is “good” or not. The Court’s function is limited to determining the law’s constitutionality—nothing more. Duly passed by a majority of Congress, the law is upheld, except for a small portion regarding penalties to states.
Well, thank heavens. The ruling will end the judicial activism that has characterized the Court’s decisions in recent years, an intrusion into the legislative branch that had begun to threaten the Constitution itself. Why? Because, working as the law does—through precedents—this ends it. Under this written precedent, there will be no more partisan influence infecting the Court and pre-determining judgments on the basis of ideology. This decision may well turn out to be much more important for us in the long view than the outcome of this particular law. He even went so far as to point out that the Court does not control Congress (right!), but that the electorate does (right!) This is not a disaster for our freedom; it is salvation of it.
In all the competitive machinations of modern partisan politics that pervade our lives, it’s easy to forget the single most basic tenet in the American idea of freedom. And Justice Roberts has just done more to protect it and to restore its power than anything that’s happened in recent memory. No, the Court does not decide what will or will not become law. We do. And we do it by voting.