Many Americans may not understand the political dynamics of the U.S. Supreme Court or the implications of its decisions. We pay attention sporadically but often overlook trends revealed in individual court decisions: More conservative or more liberal? How will our lives be affected? What does it mean for me?
In high-profile cases, like National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius - the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare - the court's 5-4 decision in June upheld the controversial case, and Americans were acutely aware that nine justices affect laws by interpreting the Constitution.
Chief Justice John Roberts, who was appointed by President George W. Bush in 2005, surprised nearly everyone by casting the critical fifth vote affirming the law.
"Roberts did refrain from embracing the unprecedented extremism of his conservative colleagues in the health care case; on that occasion, the chief justice acted like a true conservative and deferred, as have judges for seventy-five years, to the elected branches of government on issues relating to managing the economy," writes Jeffrey Toobin in his new book "The Oath," about the high- stakes conflict of ideas between Roberts and President Barack Obama.
The truly conservative position, Toobin and many others argue, is to let voters decide on the law, as they will Nov. 6 when they re- elect the president or send Mitt Romney to the White House. If Obama wins a second term, the health care law is sure to stand. If Romney is elected, its future is in doubt.
"But it was folly to pretend that Roberts had discovered his inner moderate," Toobin, a New Yorker staff writer, continues. "He has not changed, except that he was more powerful than ever."
Toobin's premise is that Roberts, with his exceptional mind and strong writing skills, is reshaping the court in ways that may chip away at many famous decisions, reaching back as far as Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark decision in 1954 that struck down state laws permitting segregation in American public schools.
Toobin frames his book as a titanic struggle between two powerful, Harvard Law-educated men, Roberts leading the judicial branch, Obama the executive branch.
Toobin's book is timed to coincide with the presidential election less than two months away. He wants to illustrate what's at stake at the polls and, without being polemical, leaves little doubt that he is alarmed at the thought of Obama's losing office and not being able to counter the Roberts court. …