On the fourth day of the Battle of Gettysburg, General Richard S. (“Bald Dick”) Ewell, riding behind the lines, was hit in the leg by a Union sniper’s bullet. Unfazed, the one-legged general remarked, “It don't hurt a bit to be shot in a wooden leg.”
It may be that the federal government was shot in a wooden leg today. Overall, that’s true—the ACA survived, by one vote, a case that could have voided it in its entirety and wreaked havoc on federal power generally. But in particular, in the Court’s major new cutback on federal power—the limits on the use of Congress’s spending power to convince the states to sign on to an expanded Medicaid program—the federal government was wounded by being forbidden to do something it really never wanted to do.
Does anyone remember yesterday, before our minds were blown away by watching (on Twitter) Roberts vote to uphold the Affordable Care Act and Kennedy join with the three billygoats to declare the whole thing unconstitutional? I’m having trouble remembering, too. But my notes here say that yesterday I wrote about David Blankenhorn’s decision to support same-sex marriage, and I critiqued (via something Richard Kim wrote at The Nation) the more progressive faction of the LGBT movement for their long-ago hopes of rerouting the marriage equality movement into a more general attempt to overhaul marriage and family law.
John Roberts imagined himself as a consensus-builder after his confirmation to be the 17th chief justice of the Supreme Court, a justice in the mold of John Marshall charged with alleviating divisions on the Court by advocating judicial modesty. Some progressive observers took these claims very seriously. I was inclined to view them as essentially fraudulent.
For months before today’s announcement of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Health Care Cases, the conventional wisdom had centered on two things: (1) The vote would be 6-3; and (2) Chief Justice John G. Roberts would write the opinion. Roberts would jump the way Justice Anthony Kennedy jumped and then write the opinion to shape doctrine for the future.
For supporters of the Affordable Care Act, it was hard to hear—over the cheering—anything besides the fact that the Supreme Court today kept the law almost entirely intact. But the Court did make a slight change to a crucial part of the ACA: Medicaid expansion. Under the law, by 2014, states are supposed to extend their Medicaid programs to cover people under 65 with incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty line. An analysis from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows that means 17 million more people would have access to health care over the next 10 years. Before today, it looked like states didn't have much choice in the matter.
The Supreme Court's decision on the Affordable Care Act, particularly Justice Roberts siding with the liberals, took most everyone by surprise this morning. But if you tune in to Fox News or surf around the conservative blogs, they seem to be taking it somewhat philosophically. They're not happy, but there's little rending of garments and gnashing of teeth. Mostly they're saying, well, we'll just have to win this in November (see here for a representative sample). There's also a good deal of discussion of the fact that the Court declared that the requirement to carry health insurance is permissible under the government's taxing power. After all, if there's one thing Republicans know how to do, it's complain about taxes. Mitch McConnell quickly took to the floor of the Senate to condemn the decision, and no doubt Mitt Romney will soon say something so vague that no one can determine what he actually thinks.
But here's my guess: Republicans are going to drop health care very quickly.
I’m not the only one who has noticed that Antonin Scalia has become the Supreme Court’s crazy uncle.
As I wrote here yesterday, Scalia’s dissent in the Court’s Monday ruling striking down most of Arizona’s anti-immigrant law was bizarre beyond belief—arrogating to Arizona a degree of sovereignty in border (and foreign, and military) policy that law and custom restrict to nations. His willingness to let Arizona make its own foreign policy was also in sharp contrast to his refusal to grant Montana the right to put controls on campaign spending in its state elections—a decision he joined on the same day he issued his Arizona dissent.
One of the most interesting dynamics on the Roberts Court is the emerging rivalry between Justice Antonin Scalia and Justice Samuel Alito for intellectual leadership of the conservative wing. From time to time, Alito openly mocks Scalia’s “originalist” philosophy (see, for example, his concurrence in United States v. Jones, ridiculing the idea that “eighteenth-century tort law” can decide questions about global positioning technology). It’s a generation thing: Alito is a callow 62 to Scalia’s 76. Like young folk everywhere, he’s embarrassed for his friends to see him in public with crazy Uncle Nino.
These guys aren't too worried about owning health care.
In the search for silver linings to a Supreme court decision striking down part or all of the Affordable Care Act, many people have suggested that should it happen, Americans will turn all their displeasure about the health care system on conservatives. Specifically, it is that that they will "own" the health care system. James Carville says that if the ACA is overturned on a 5-4 vote, "The Republican party will own the health care system for the foreseeable future." Former Solicitor General Walter Dellinger says, "If the court were to strike down this major reform effort, 40 years in the making, the court would own the resulting health care system for the next decade and beyond. It’s a slightly highbrow version of the universal rule: 'You broke it, you bought it.'" The Republican party is one thing, but the Supreme Court "owing" health care? What does that mean? That people will be protesting outside the Court when their premiums go up? First of all, they won't, and second of all, I don't think the Court's conservative justices could care less if they did.
Hard to say what’s more bizarre about Antonin Scalia’s furious dissent against the Supreme Court’s decision striking down most of Arizona’s anti-immigrant law: his railing at President Barack Obama’s executive order stopping the deportation of immigrants brought here as children (which wasn’t remotely the subject of the case at hand) or his basis for upholding Arizona’s law—that Arizona is a sovereign state with the rights generally claimed by nation-states.
The oral arguments earlier this year on the SB-1070, the infamous Arizona immigration law, made it difficult to read how the Court was going to rule on most of its provisions, although the Court seemed on balance more sympathetic to Arizona's position. Given how things looked after that, today's decision in Arizona v. United States must be considered a pleasant surprise.
During the 1980s and '90s, conservatives liked to talk about the “sagebrush rebellion,” in which local officials in Western counties tried to take back federal land and escape the “tyranny” of federal land-management and environmental rules. That rebellion still simmers. But today, the Supreme Court crushed, for the moment, a newer rebellion out of the West.
Thursday was First Amendment day at the Supreme Court. But the Court ducked the chance to decide what is literally its most visible case of the term—the “dirty words on broadcast TV” case. Federal Communications Commission v. Fox Television Stations, was on its second trip to the show. Seven justices delivered an opinion that sheds no light at all on the interesting issue—whether the government may ban “fleeting expletives” on broadcast TV.