Niagara Gazette

July 2, 2012

EDITORIAL: Remarkable restraint displayed in health care ruling

Gazette editorial board
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — The Supreme Court got it right Thursday when it upheld the Affordable Care Act and the five justice majority showed appropriate — and remarkable — judicial restraint in so doing.

Seemingly forever we have argued over the proper role the judiciary has in American governance. Conservatives have decried “judicial activism” — defined best we can tell as justices doing things conservatives don’t like. After Democrats held power for two years many conservative commentators (to say nothing of elected Republicans suddenly in the minority) began changing their tune, excoriating judges who failed to invalidate Democratic laws.

On Thursday, conservatives’ hypocrisy on the issue was permanently exposed by their howling that our freedom had been forever lost — because the judges failed to act.

Quite the contrary: Rarely has our democratic system been on finer display.

The role of the judiciary has been improperly framed in the political debate. Sometimes jurisprudence requires bold action and sometimes it requires mature deference to our elected lawmakers’ decisions. The good judges, whether conservative or liberal in inclination, know the difference.

When the high court in 1954 forced the integration of America’s Southern schools with Brown V the Board of Education it was a remarkable feat — and a brave moment of judicial activism in the face of an embarrassing absence of political will. The result? “Separate but equal” gave way to genuine equality as the Supreme Court forced upon us a societal change envisioned in the 14th Amendment, written a century prior to failed affect.

When it comes to health care, the justices — and Chief Justice John Roberts deserves special commendation here in breaking with the conservative bloc to maintain his court’s institutional integrity — rightly decided they had no place in the debate. Voters spoke clearly when they elected Democrats to the White House and majorities of a bicameral legislature in 2008. Their intentions were no secret; universal health care was a primary plank in the Democratic platform and a majority of voters endorsed it.

And to be sure, if our health care system is to be reformed it can only come by virtue of vigorous public discourse and then an election. Who we selected to enact such reform was a matter of intense debate. It would seem obvious that those who lost it passionately disagree with the result. Such is life in a representative democracy. If there’s one thing Democrats and Republicans alike can agree on, it’s this: You win some, you lose some.

The merits of Democratic health care reform should never have been the issue in this decision. Taking a step back it should be obvious that Congress is the only branch of government with the authority to act on such matters and while they controlled it, Democrats did just that. For what it’s worth, it seems clear in Chief Justice Roberts’ less-than-ringing endorsement of the Democratic legislation, even in siding with its constitutionality (he said it “isn’t the court’s job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices,”) that the court’s conservatives would have written the law much differently were it their prerogative.

Thankfully, Roberts sided with the court’s liberals in acknowledging it isn’t.

With their ruling Thursday, the court rightly asserted that the future of our nation’s health care system should be decided in the political arena and, ultimately, at the voting booth. Democrats must now own this law.

Surely Republicans oppose it. And after they’re doing speaking their peace, we will vote again. It’s what we do.

In stepping back from the brink, the court has reaffirmed an incredibly important principle: Ultimately, the most important voice in drafting the laws we live by belongs to the men and women the voters choose to do it.