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
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
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.