Wednesday, July 4, 2012
Call me a liberal or call me a conservative, but I am extremely disappointed by Mississippi politicians' reaction over Thursday's U.S. Supreme Court ruling about the Affordable Care Act. Although I increasingly expect to see it, both parties are displaying a fundamental lack of understanding about the ruling: Republicans follow their rank and file, claiming that the court's ruling is a travesty of monumental proportions because it expands the federal government (see JFP coverage of Gov. Phil Byrant, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper, etc. ). The Democrats claim victory for equality.
Both interpretations are inundated with party talking points, and in doing so, are only half-truths if they're true at all.
First, a little background information. Right now, the U.S. Supreme Court is a conservative court, meaning that of the nine judges, five of them were appointed by Republican presidents and have right-leaning tendencies. In fact, former President George W. Bush appointed the chief justice of the Supreme Court, John Roberts, making him one of those conservatives. And here is where it gets tricky.
Producing a 5-4 decision, Roberts broke from the conservative block to uphold the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2009, after which he assigned himself to write the majority opinion.
In his opinion, Roberts declared the individual mandate component of the act unconstitutional under the commerce clause; instead, he said the act was actually a tax and, therefore, valid under Congress' authority to tax. Subsequently, the ruling has two major consequences.
First, the ruling made the health-care law—Obamacare—a tax issue. Now, passing a new tax in this political climate is like jumping into a pit of volcanic lava.
Chief Justice Roberts knew this, and you can bet he also knows that this is an election year. Basically, the court ruled that Obama taxed the entirety of the American population without them even knowing it. To say it another way: Roberts kicked Obama into the lava pit.
Second, the court's decision set a new precedent for legislative power. The Obama administration defended the act under the commerce clause, but the court did not uphold this argument. The implications here are much more far-reaching than the health-care bill itself. Over the past century, progressive courts have wielded the commerce clause as a rationale for expanding the role of the federal government (think: New Deal and the Warren and Burger courts). However, in this decision, the court placed a hard and fast limitation to its use: the commerce clause is not a blanket justification for government expansion. Chief Justice Robert is playing a long game, rather than the short game, and by doing so, he is protecting the integrity of the court.
And that brings me back to why I am disappointed. Mississippi politicians seem incapable of understanding the nuances of this decision. Republicans are mad because they "lost," and the Democrats are happy because they "won." Neither position departs from mere surface-level understanding.
I believe this decision was a victory for conservatives. In the upcoming election, Obama will have to defend his policy of taxation—and not just the taxes he wants to raise on the rich. The individual mandate is a tax he has already levied on the middle class. Saying this bullet would be difficult to dodge is an understatement.
What should be more important to conservative-minded people is that the U.S. Supreme Court did not take a partisan position on a politically charged issue. Just because the Supreme Court disagrees with a legislative policy does not mean that Congress lacks the constitutional authority to pass that law. If the Supreme Court falls prey to judicial activism, it become nothing more than a tool wielded by the parties—another wrecking ball of partisanship.
Why then are so many Republicans in Mississippi dubbing the decision as a failure, and why are the Democrats crowing about success? I don't pretend to know what is going on in their minds, nor do I pretend to have every answer on every issue. However, I do believe that as American citizens, we have a duty to delve deeper into an issue rather than being spoon-fed shallow interpretations. I hold our leaders to an even higher standard, and that is why I am especially disappointed when they are the ones giving us the narrow interpretation.
I don't care which animal you prefer to ride, the donkey or the elephant, but I do care when politicians blatantly distort the truth.
We, as Mississippians, should demand more from our leaders.
Matt Bolian is a full-time redhead, Christian, husband, Army officer and property developer (blackwhitedevelopment.com) who loves ultimate Frisbee, tacos, fruit smoothies and dreaming BIG. He's starting an editorial internship with the Jackson Free Press this month.