I’ve been watching conservative and liberal pundits alike puzzling over the fact that Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the liberal wing of the Supreme Court to uphold President Obama’s healthcare law. I think Chief Justice Roberts gives us a glimpse into his rationale in his majority opinion. Read the following excerpt carefully, especially the underlined portion at the end.
Our permissive reading of these powers is explained in part by a general reticence to invalidate the acts of the Nation’s elected leaders. “Proper respect for a co-ordinate branch of the government” requires that we strike down an Act of Congress only if “the lack of constitutional authority to pass [the] act in question is clearly demonstrated.” United States v. Harris, 106 U. S. 629, 635 (1883).Members of this Court are vested with the authority to interpret the law; we possess neither the expertise nor the prerogative to make policy judgments. Those decisions are entrusted to our Nation’s elected leaders, who can be thrown out of office if the people disagree with them. It is not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices (Majority Opinion, p. 12).
Did you get that? In essence, Roberts argues that Congress has the right to impose taxes (which is the penalty for not obeying the mandate). If people don’t like those taxes, then they need to get rid of the political leaders who impose them. The Supreme Court is not going to adjudicate public policy. According to the Constitution, Congress can tax the citizenry, and the majority recognizes that right. In other words, he’s arguing for judicial restraint, not activism.
In short, Roberts argues that if there is no clear constitutional issue at stake, the Supreme Court should be restrained in its judgments. That’s what Roberts thinks the majority has done by letting Obamacare stand.