Politics and the Supreme Court
July 7, 2012 4 Comments
There’s been considerable speculation as to why Chief Justice John Roberts voted to uphold Obamacare as constitutional. Some on the right have blamed his epilepsy medication, which is only slightly less absurd than the idea that David Axelrod was planning on having Roberts offed. Really, if President Obama wanted one justice off the Supreme Court, wouldn’t it be the Giant Gas Bag of Righteous Rightwingness, Antonin Scalia? And if Roberts was dumbed down by his epilepsy medication, why didn’t the prescription work its magic when it came to him unnecessarily and without precedent limiting the commerce clause of the Constitution?
On the Left side of the spectrum, there is some speculation that Roberts wanted to protect the veneer of respectability that the Supreme Court retains, in order to be able to more effectively enact conservative desires in the future, such as fighting to quash affirmative action and voting rights.
That may be part of Roberts’ calculations, but sometimes in all of the intrigue swirling around questions of whether or not work by Roberts’ clerks prepared arguments on both sides of the cases, we lose sight of the bigger picture. All of the insider antics probably leaked by conservative justices actually reinforces the reality that the Supreme Court is a political branch of government.
Of course, that has been crystal clear since the activist conservative justices came down against Florida properly counting votes in the 2000 election, preferring instead to install fellow conservative George W. Bush as president. It was such a blatant case of over-reach that the conservative justices themselves said that the case could not be cited as precedent. And, of course, they had to abandon their previous views on states’ rights in order to reach their desired outcome.
I don’t suggest that liberal justices — actually, most of them are moderates, right? — abandon their principles with the same relish adopted by the conservative activists. I do suggest, though, that they remember that the Court is a political branch of government, and that they act accordingly. If President Obama gets the chance to nominate another justice to the Supreme Court, I’m hoping he’ll nominate someone with consistent progressive ideals, who also knows how to play politics, because that’s the reality of the institution.
Views From The Hill: Chief Justice John Roberts: Saint or Villain?
Point4CounterPoint: the Progress Report : GOP response to the Health Care Ruling