KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Viewpoints: Can You Blame George Bush?; A Kiss For The Chief

Some opinion writers look at the key role of Chief Justice John Roberts in the health care ruling.

The New York Times: Modesty And Audacity
In his remarkable health care opinion Thursday, the chief justice of the Supreme Court restrained the power of his own institution. He decided not to use judicial power to overrule the democratic process. He decided not to provoke a potential institutional crisis. Granted, he had to imagine a law slightly different than the one that was passed in order to get the result he wanted, but Roberts’s decision still represents a moment of, if I can say so, Burkean minimalism and self-control (David Brooks, 6/28).

The New York Times: A Confused Opinion
The stunner yesterday was that Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., joined by the Supreme Court's four most liberal justices, wrote the majority opinion that upheld the individual mandate in President Obama’s signature Affordable Care Act, which requires Americans to obtain health insurance or pay a penalty. In an ironic twist, the chief justice simultaneously accepted the conservative argument that Congress’s power to regulate interstate commerce did not include the power to regulate economic inactivity, like a decision not to purchase health care. The court ruled 5 to 4 on that point, with the chief justice joined by the court’s four other conservative justices (Richard A. Epstein, 6/28).

The New York Times' Opinionator: A Justice In Chief
The title "chief justice of the United States" is not in the Constitution, and neither was it in the first Judiciary Act by which Congress organized the federal courts. It came into use only casually and gradually, by the late 19th century replacing the favored "chief justice of the Supreme Court of the United States." Even today, people often mangle the title as "chief justice of the Supreme Court." The mangled title is one that John G. Roberts Jr. would have had trouble claiming on Thursday. In his controlling opinion in the health care case, he spoke largely for himself (Linda Greenhouse, 6/28).

USA Today: Court's Top Conservative Kills Federalism
In reality, the case was never really about health care but federalism — the relative authority of the federal government vs. the state. I support national health care, but I oppose the individual mandate as the wrong means to a worthy end. Indeed, for federalism advocates, the ruling reads like a scene out of Julius Caesar— a principal killed by the unseen hand of a long-trusted friend. Brutus, in this legal tragedy, was played by Chief Justice John Roberts (Jonathan Turley, 6/28).

The Washington Post: Why Roberts Did It
It's the judiciary’s Nixon-to-China: Chief Justice John Roberts joins the liberal wing of the Supreme Court and upholds the constitutionality of Obamacare. How? By pulling off one of the great constitutional finesses of all time. He managed to uphold the central conservative argument against Obamacare, while at the same time finding a narrow definitional dodge to uphold the law — and thus prevented the court from being seen as having overturned, presumably on political grounds, the signature legislation of this administration (Charles Krauthammer, 6/28).

The Wall Street Journal: We Blame George W. Bush
ObamaCare is still the law of the land, and we blame George W. Bush. In National Federation of Independent Businesses v. Sebelius, four associate justices adopted the position of Florida's Judge Roger Vinson, voting to strike down the entire law--we read Anthony Kennedy correctly back in March--and the other four voted to uphold the individual mandate as a legitimate exercise of Congress's authority to regulate interstate commerce. That left Chief Justice John Roberts, nominated by Bush in 2005, with almost the full range of options before him (James Taranto, 6/28).

Boston Globe: Chief Justice Roberts Defends The High Court
Yet Roberts seems to have grasped that doing so would have cemented the court’s image as a partisan actor and severely diminished it as an institution. As chief justice of the United States — a title bespeaking responsibility to the nation as well as the court — he had a duty not to let that happen (6/29).

Des Moines Register: Roberts' Decision Gives Liberals A Reason To Love Him
Around 9:15 a.m. Thursday, I was seized with the impulse to kiss someone I have only ever felt anger toward: Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts. It wasn’t personal, but in many ways, it was. The Affordable Care Act, which the court upheld thanks to his vote, directly benefits my family and every American who struggles to pay their health care bills. But more than that, Roberts’ acknowledgment that the president and Congress could pass such sweeping legislation for the good of the nation restores faith in America’s ability to progress beyond partisanship (Rekha Basu, 6/28).

Bloomberg: The Chief Justice Comes To The Rescue
This continuing debate may not have the drama of a Supreme Court decision announced at 10 a.m. on the last day of the term to a cameraless courtroom. But at least it will not have to contend with the premise that Obamacare is unconstitutional or that Congress does not have authority to legislate in this area. For that, the president may want to send a thank-you note to the chief justice (6/28).

Bloomberg: In Health-Care Ruling, Roberts Writes His Own Law
Roberts may think he has threaded a needle. He has avoided affirming an expansive reading of the Commerce Clause, which conservatives loathe, while refusing to give liberals the ammunition to call him a partisan for dismantling their cherished law. He acted cleverly. He also acted less like a judge than like a politician, and a slippery one (Ramesh Ponnuru, 6/28).

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