As Supreme Court justices review health-care law, stakes will be hard to ignore
The Supreme Court on Monday joins the nation’s vitriolic debate over the landmark health-care law and the limits of federal power. And though thousands of pages of legal arguments about the Constitution’s history and the court’s precedents have landed on justices’ desks, the outcome may also hinge on less tangible factors.
Public opinion. The nation’s volatile political climate. The court’s self-consciousness about its own partisan divide. And the pivotal role it plays in deciding the nation’s thorniest social issues.
Experts say all of those go into the mix as justices consider the extraordinary step of striking down — for the first time since the New Deal — a monumental domestic program proposed by the president and passed by Congress.
[Justice John G. Roberts Jr.] and the court have gone to some lengths to show the nation the seriousness and evenhandedness of their inquiry.
They have scheduled six hours of arguments over three days, the most in 45 years. They will examine the law in detail, even parts that no judges below them have found constitutionally questionable. And while cameras are still forbidden, the court has changed its rules to release audiotape and transcripts of the arguments each day.
Roberts even made something of a preemptive strike this year when he defended his colleagues against criticism that some come to the arguments with agendas.
“We are all deeply committed to the common interest in preserving the court’s vital role as an impartial tribunal governed by the rule of law,” Roberts wrote in his annual report on the state of the judiciary.
But the case sets up a classic problem for the court: when to defer to the political branches as the elected representatives of the people and when to blow the whistle when those politicians have intruded on the Constitution’s protection of the people.