In a move that surprised most, myself included, not only did the US Supreme Court uphold the Affordable Healthcare Act, aka Obamacare, pretty much intact, but it was Chief Justice John Roberts who provided the swing vote. The sticking part of the AHA was the individual mandate, the part of the law which requires everyone to buy health insurance or pay a penalty. The liberal bloc of the court (Justices Ginsberg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan) approved of the mandate while the conservative bloc (Justices Scalia, Thomas, Alito, and Kennedy) did not. Most expected Justice Kennedy to be the swing vote, if there was to be one to save the law, but he didn’t swing. Chief Justice Robert did.
At first blush, this might seem kind of odd. And to be sure, the Chief Justice did use a different rationale for defending the individual mandate and penalty than his liberal colleagues. He wrote that while the mandate could not be defended by the Commerce Clause of the US Constitution — which is what the Obama Administration sought to do — he stated that the Congress has the power to raise taxes and he equated the penalty for not buying health insurance with a tax. Many quibble with his reasoning, including the dissenting justices. Justice Kennedy wrote in the minority opinion
“To say that the Individual Mandate merely imposes a tax is not to interpret the statute but to rewrite it,” they write.
quoted from Yahoo! News
I’m sure many conservatives are agog that one of their own “turned” against them. His conservative creds are at stake. Or are they? I argue that with this opinion, he is painting himself as a true conservative. How? By defending a business interest. The AHA is going to be a boon for the health insurance industry. Everyone has to have health insurance and, since the public option didn’t happen, everyone who is not of Medicare age will have to buy it from a private insurer. When the AHA goes into full effect in 2014, this will create a huge pool of ready-made customers, or a captive audience. Even if overall premiums go down, which is one of the goals of the AHA, that’s still millions of people buying a product which previously they did not buy. That means millions of more customers for insurance companies that they did not have before. From my thinking, that’s still going to amount to a lot of money, even if the premium collected from these new customers is lower than at current rates (we hope).
Chief Justice Roberts has demonstrated many times that he is very friendly with corporations. The Citizens United decision — which was buttressed earlier this week in another decision by the court — is but one example. While firebrand conservatives decry Obamacare as a government takeover of health care, which it most decidedly isn’t, corporatists such as Chief Justice Roberts see it for what it is: a boon for a very large and powerful industry. In this light, then, the Chief Justice siding to preserve AHA makes sense.
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