Today, the Supreme Court ruled that the Affordable Care Act was Constitutional – though as a tax rather than a commerce provision – surprising many who expected at least the individual mandate requirement to be struck down. The Supreme Court has five conservative and four liberal judges, with the expectation that on the biggest issues they will vote along party lines, rather than according to the evidence with which they are presented. This goes against the notion of separation of powers.
The Founding Fathers, in their wisdom, designed the government of the United States with checks and balances, granting some authority to the President, more to Congress, and the task of ruling on the legality of the actions of both to the Judicial Branch. If the rulings of the highest court in the land are liable to change based on the right or left leanings of the Justices who are on the bench at the time, then interpretation of the law becomes a lottery based on who is in the White House to nominate a new judge when a space becomes available. This is not how laws should be upheld or struck down, else there is a risk of tyranny of the majority.
“Facts are stubborn things and whatever may be our inclinations, or the dictums of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts or evidence”
This quote from the second President of the United States was part of his argument in defense of the British Soldiers in the Boston Massacre trial. Despite a risk to his law practice and the well-being of his family, Adams believed that everyone was entitled to a fair trial and took on the case. Through the passage of time, as politics has become more partisan and the two parties are as divided as any time since the Civil War, this notion of justice and impartiality has been all but vanquished.
Take “Citizens United” – the decision by the Supreme Court in 2010 that ruled corporations are allowed to fund electioneering communications, overturning a previous ban. Although they are still not allowed to provide funding directly to candidates in federal elections – SuperPACs have essentially made that ban irrelevant – the ruling effectively stated that companies should be protected under the First Amendment as if they themselves were citizens. Mitt Romney at the Iowa State Fair last year stated that “corporations are people” – the message that the Supreme Court gave with their Citizens United decision. Common sense tells us that this is not the case. In the recent recall election of Governor Walker in Wisconsin, the incumbent was able to outspend his opponent 7 to 1 because Citizens United allowed him to receive donations from companies.
If elections were not decided on spending alone, this may not be such a big issue, but nowadays, the more a candidate spends on attack ads and marketing, the greater their chances of winning. So what could this mean? Republicans tend to be favoured by the richest people and the biggest businesses in this country, as they advocate lower taxes on the higher earners and a decrease in Corporate Tax rates, thus they are likely to gain the most money in campaign funding. This increases the likelihood of GOP candidates getting elected, both to Congress and to the White House, giving them the opportunity to nominate and affirm Justices to the Supreme Court.
It is vital, therefore, for the judicial branch to remain independent, no matter who they were appointed by and regardless of their own political viewpoints. Today’s decision goes some way to restore the notion that the Justices would be able to pass judgement on cases without bias or prejudice of their own allegiances. Indeed, in his opinion on the ruling, Chief Justice Roberts echoed John Adams’ sentiments noted above:
Because the Constitution permits such a tax, it is not our role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness.
Chief Justice Roberts Opinion, National Federation of Independent Business vs Sebelius 2012
It is perhaps the hardest thing to accept – that something you do not agree with should still be allowed to be implemented, but that is the nature of a plutocracy. I may not agree with much of what they say on Fox News, but I still believe that the First Amendment gives them the right of free speech and they are entitled to broadcast their message. Continue reading