It is very easy to become overjoyed that the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of the Affordable Health Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare after the president who successfully pushed for its enactment.
But any such joy has to be tempered by the reality that, were it not for one justice, who surprisingly sided with the supporters of the law, health care reform would have once again slipped beyond reach.
Chief Justice John Roberts chose to look at the controversial individual mandate as a tax, making it constitutional. He did so even while agreeing with opponents who see the mandate as an unconstitutional imposition on citizens by the federal government. He did not say that the law is sound policy because of the good that it will do, because that is not what the justices are supposed to do. And that raises an important point about how the court has been functioning in recent years.
It would be naïve to believe that politics does not play a role in the justices’ rulings, even though that is not supposed to happen. They start off being nominated by presidents and, while they serve for life, it is not common for them to abandon the ideology which underpins their individual nominations and which they take to the court.
The problem is that ideological intractability in the interpretation of a law’s constitutionality can cloud the fact that the Constitution is a living document and interpreting it must be in the context of broadening the democracy that it shelters, not stifling it and not making living under it a suffocating proposition.
It is regrettable, therefore, that four justices, seeking refuge in ideology, could not interpret as valid a law which will make it possible for some 30 million Americans to finally afford health insurance, help millions of seniors pay for medication, allow Americans with illnesses to be guaranteed health insurance coverage and allow young adults to stay on their parents’ insurance plans an additional few years.
Some supporters of President Barack Obama see the ruling as a political victory. But it is the people who are the real winners. Many Americans have been hoodwinked into believing the health reform law is bad for them, because of the money that pays for the lie to be repeated enough times to become the truth, such as “pulling the plug on Grandma.” But already millions are beginning to see the benefits of Obamacare, even though the main provisions will not kick in until 2014. It won’t be long before a majority of Americans will realize that the court, even with its split majority, did the right thing.