Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

To Our Health Court Leaves Health Care Decision to the People

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

To Our Health Court Leaves Health Care Decision to the People

Article excerpt

"The Framers created a federal government of limited powers, and assigned to this court the duty of enforcing those limits. The court does so today. But the court does not express any opinion on the wisdom of the Affordable Care Act. Under the Constitution, that judgment is reserved to the people."

So wrote Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. at the end of his majority opinion upholding the Obama administration's signature policy achievement as constitutional (with one objection on the extension of Medicaid). It was both a summary of what he believed his opinion was about and a reminder to the American people, especially those left disappointed or outraged by his vote.

In his exceedingly intricate balancing act, the chief justice managed to agree with conservatives who argued that individuals cannot be ordered to engage in interstate commerce against their will yet still find a plausible way to preserve the individual mandate, the core component of the law dubbed Obamacare by its critics.

This fine legal dance has virtually guaranteed that health care will loom plebiscite-level large in November's presidential election. But who would have thought that the first part of the legal journey would end like this? Everything about it was a surprise.

After the open skepticism expressed by justices during oral arguments, the Supreme Court's decision was widely predicted to be a 5-4 decision along familiar ideological lines.

On Thursday, with the administration among those fearing the worst, a 5-4 decision came but in a manner shockingly unpredictable. The swing vote turned out not to be Associate Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who seemed the only outside hope for the government's position, but the conservative chief justice himself.

And it wasn't just the outcome that was surprising, it was also the unexpected way the decision turned. Chief Justice Roberts rejected the administration's main argument for the individual mandate -- that it was constitutional under the Commerce Clause. …

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