When the decision first came down just after 10 a.m., the initial news, as reported on Huffington Post and on NPR, was that the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act was struck down, thus handing conservatives a massive victory. But cheers from that side of the political fray were short lived, as that news was quickly overshadowed by the court’s 5-4 ruling, with Chief Justice John Roberts siding with the court’s “other side” (Sotomayor, Kagan, Ginsburg, and Breyer), that the mandate was constitutional as tax policy, just not under the interstate commerce clause of the Constitution.
The collective air being let out of tea partiers everywhere was almost palpable. But there were actually four points the Supreme Court had to address. Two of those, including the issue of severability, were really only issues if the mandate wasn’t upheld. With the mandate, the third issue, being seen as constitutional, there was only the fourth to deal with, which was the expansion of Medicaid. The court delivered a mixed reaction to that, with Medicaid expansion being seen as completely constitutional, but the idea that the federal government could take away current Medicaid funding to states that fail to comply was deemed unconstitutional. Really, though, it’s not many states that will turn down a massive influx of federal dollars for Medicaid expansion — those that do are generally run by not merely Republicans, but neanderthal troglodytes who value scoring political points over the health and welfare of the very people they have been elected to represent.
Speaking of neanderthal troglodytes, the four conservatives on the court — Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Anthony Kennedy — issued a dissent that argued the entire law was unconstitutional. It’s worth noting that the idea that the law is totally unconstitutional was seen as an iffy prospect at best at the outset of this fight two years ago — even by the very people who wanted the law struck down. What this says, then, is that Scalia, Thomas, Alito, and Kennedy have acted largely as political operatives in their ruling. In the beginning of the fight, even conservative legal scholars didn’t think the law could be struck down in its entirety. And yet here we are, two years later, and four of (ostensibly at least) the foremost conservative political minds in the country have embraced that very idea. The point is this: The next time a conservative argues against activist judges, you should laugh at them.
It also shows just how important the Supreme Court is and how important the next four years will be. Three justices — Ginsburg, Alito, and Kennedy — are over the age of 75. The next president will probably either tilt the court further to the right, or else tilt the court in favor of the liberals for the first time since about 1990. So another thing you should laugh at people over: When they say there’s no difference between Romney and Obama. For this reason and this reason alone, there is a massive divide between the two candidates.