Rupert Cornwell: Election winners can get rid of healthcare. It should not be the job of judges

Lately, the Supreme Court's popularity has slipped to barely 40 per cent

Share

Back in September 2005, a certain neophyte Democratic Senator voted 'No' to the confirmation of John Roberts as Chief Justice of the United States. Now Barack Obama should be sending Mr Roberts a grovelling letter of apology confessing his error.

With his decisive fifth vote to uphold the key provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) – aka "Obamacare" – a Chief Justice appointed by a Republican president has handed a Democratic president his most important victory. He may also have saved the reputation of the Supreme Court itself.

A decision to gut the bill of the "individual mandate", or to strike down the healthcare reform measure in its entirety, would have been a simple 5-4 victory for the court's conservative majority. Such an outcome was the general expectation beforehand, after a string of similar narrow wins on politically charged cases.

In those confirmation hearings seven years ago, Mr Roberts declared, employing a baseball metaphor, that his job was "to call balls and strikes." Reality has been different. At the crunch, the supposedly impartial Court, the third branch of the constitution, has all too often seemed part of the GOP, aggressively pushing conservative doctrine. Probably as a result, public confidence has ebbed. Normally one of the country's most trusted institutions, the Court's popularity has lately slipped to barely 40 per cent, the lowest in decades.

This week the tide may have started to turn. On Arizona's hardline immigration law, the Court had something for both sides. It struck down three provisions, but on the most controversial – allowing police to demand the papers of suspected illegal immigrants – it took the line of "let's see how it works" before taking a final decision.

Yesterday's healthcare ruling was in similarly restrained vein. The "individual mandate" (obliging Americans to buy health insurance if they don't have it,) could be construed as a tax, Chief Justice Roberts wrote, as he unexpectedly sided with the four liberal justices. "Because the Constitution permits such a tax, it is not our role to forbid it," he said. Nor was it for the Court to pronounce upon the basic wisdom of the Act; that was up to "the People," – the politicians and Congress. Exactly how it should be.

By upholding the ACA, the Court has not ended the healthcare reform argument. Most Americans opposes Obamacare. More than ever, the issue will feature in the election campaign; more than ever Republicans will step up their efforts to repeal the Act. The ruling may help them, by galvanising activists and relieving the party of the need to say what it would put in the ACA's place.

Moreover, by deeming the mandate as a tax, the Court has backed Republican claims the ACA is a tax increase. Expect to hear that refrain daily on the campaign trail. If Mitt Romney wins in November, and the Republicans take full control of Congress, then Obamacare will be gone. That is the right of a party that wins elections. It is not the right of a Supreme Court that has a pro-Republican majority. John Roberts recognised that fact.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Labour leader Ed Miliband unveils Labour's pledges carved into a stone plinth in Hastings  

Election 2015: Smash the two-party system! Smash the voting system!

Armando Iannucci
Tactical voting is a necessary evil of the current first-past-the-post system, where voters vote against what they do not want rather than in favour of what they do  

Election 2015: Voting tactically has become more fraught in new political order

Michael Ashcroft
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before