Friday, June 29, 2012

The Chief Justice to the rescue

In the midst of a very strongly contested Presidential election, partisan politics running at its deepest and arguments over the role of government taking on new passion not seen since the 60’s, a true leader arises.  The leader isn’t from any elected office, not a president or legislature, but an appointed official, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

Thought of as a conservative and nominated by a conservative president, Chief Justice John Roberts was not seen by anyone as being a swing vote to support a “liberal” cause.  But, Roberts was the vote that allowed the health care act to survive.  Even more to his credit, Roberts’ argument in support of the health care law was that congress has the right to tax – taxes not being a favorable thing on the conservative side of the aisle.

Roberts did not side with those that said the act was allowed under the commerce clause of the Constitution.  That clause grants the power to congress to control commerce among the several states.  But, controlling commerce that voluntary takes place and commerce that is forced are two different things in Roberts’ view.  To force people to purchase something, in this case health care, is not what the clause is about, according to Roberts.

Instead, Roberts went off the reservation held by the other conservatives on the court that passionately disagreed with him. (Passionately being a polite word given the degree of anger expressed in the dissenting opinion.)  He applied the clause in the Constitution that grants the power of the congress to tax.  The penalty you pay if you don’t purchase health insurance is not a fine, but a tax according to Roberts and those that support the health care bil.  Therefore, congress can write that into legislation.

Think about it for a moment, in a twist not thought of before Roberts’ opinion.  There are other things that I pay dearly for if I don’t do something.   If I don’t purchase a house with a mortgage, I pay a penalty.  There is a higher tax liability because I don’t have interest payments to deduct.  If I don’t give to charity, I pay a penalty because I don’t have a deduction.  In a twist on this twist, I don’t pay an additional tax when I don’t buy cigarettes.

Roberts reasoning is sound, but that isn’t the point of this blog post.  To his real credit is that he stood up to follow conservatives on the court and faced down conservatives across the spectrum that did not share his opinion.  (Roberts even stood firm on his opinion of not allowing cameras in the court.  A group of Republicans had requested filming of the opinion a few weeks ago.  Roberts turned down the request, avoiding the dragging of the Supreme Court into the morass that is our political landscape right now.)

In a time when leadership is lacking, when the two parties can’t figure out a way to get things down, a leader arises.  Roberts placed politics aside and provided a well-reasoned opinion.

Thank you Chief Justice John Roberts.

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