In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, Georgetown law professor Randy Barnett provided a concise summary of the “saving construction” Chief Justice Roberts used to uphold the Obamacare statute. By changing the requirement to buy insurance into an option to pay a penalty, and by making the Medicaid mandate on the states optional as well, the Chief Justice created a revised law he could then deem constitutional. As Prof. Barnett wrote:
By converting the now infamous “individual mandate” into an “option” to buy insurance or pay the remaining “penalty,” he could then uphold the “penalty” as a tax. Then, by similarly rewriting the Medicare requirement being imposed on the states, he was able to “defer” to Congress and uphold the rest of Obamacare. In short, Justice Roberts rewrote the statute so that he could save it in the name of “judicial restraint.”
So what was saved — in the cause of judicial restraint — was a statute judicially re-written, materially different from the one Congress wrote. No one knows if Congress would have passed the rewritten statute in the first place, had it been presented in the form that emerged from the Chief Justice’s opinion: the number of uninsured people covered, the financial cost of the law, and the likely impact on health care are all different from the law Congress enacted. Moreover, in the process, the Chief Justice endorsed a new shared responsibility payment power for Congress that we may see again in the future.
In today’s New York Post, I speculate that Chief Justice John Roberts may have wanted us to see the illogic in his fascinatingly sophistic opinion in the Obamacare case:
Like many people who read yesterday’s decision, I will go to my grave unable to reconcile the plain fact that on page 15 Chief Justice John Roberts says the bill’s mandate to buy health insurance isn’t a tax — only to say on page 35 that it is a tax.
In a beautiful turn of phrase, the four dissenting justices said Roberts’ contortion on this matter “carries verbal wizardry too far, deep into the forbidden land of the sophists.”
Roberts’ grotesque offense against elementary logic is so bald-faced, I’m almost tempted to believe he left it there on purpose, either out of perversity or as a not-so-hidden message that he had ulterior motives for upholding the constitutionality of ObamaCare.
The whole piece is here.
For months, as liberals anticipated the Supreme Court would rule ObamaCare unconstitutional, there has been a constant drumbeat of criticism against what they assumed was a conservative majority that would thwart the president’s signature legislation. In particular, Chief Justice John Roberts was the focus of a great deal of uncomplimentary commentary, with many arguing that by leading the Court to the right he would establish a tainted legacy as a partisan judge who had damaged the institution he led. But within moments of the announcement that Roberts had sided with the four liberals on the Court, the “re-evaluation” of the chief justice had begun.
As the New York Times‘s Ethan Bronner wrote in the paper’s Caucus blog, previously, “He was seen by many, at least on the left, as a right-winger more devoted to conservative politics than the purity of the law. That could change.” Count on it.