Sunday, April 15, 2012

Jeffrey Toobin: Current Supreme Court Rules By Political Agenda

Legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin (left) writes in the New Yorker that past Supreme Courts had a record of respecting acts of Congress pertaining to interstate commerce, including relevant parts of FDR's New Deal and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. When it comes to the current Supreme Court, however, he doubts that it will respect Congressional discretion. This is the same Court, after all, that anointed the president in Bush v. Gore (2000) and opened the floodgates of corporate electoral cash in Citizens United (2010). Toobin considers the current Court's conservative judicial activism–and the consequences if it rules against the individual mandate in President Obama's Affordable Care Act. Excerpts from "Heavy Burden":

In the more than seven decades since the New Deal, the Supreme Court has avoided...line-by-line parsing of the policy choices made by legislators. As the Justices have said repeatedly, the courts should overrule the work of Congress only on the rarest occasions. “Conclusory second-guessing of difficult legislative decisions,” Chief Justice William Rehnquist once observed, “is not an attractive way for federal courts to engage in judicial review.” ...Now, instead, the Supreme Court acts as a sort of supra-legislature, dismissing laws that conflict with its own political agenda. This was most evident in the 2010 case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, when the five-Justice majority eviscerated the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance law (not to mention several of its own precedents), because Congress showed insufficiently tender regard for the free-speech rights of corporations. The question now is whether those same five Justices will rewrite—or erase—the health-care law on which Barack Obama has staked his Presidency.

It’s tempting to analyze the case in the context of election-year politics, to game out how Obama might be helped or hurt by the Court’s eventual decision. ...But the decision is a great deal more important than its immediate political aftermath. It’s about what the government can do, not just who runs it. If the Court acts in line with the sentiments expressed by the conservatives last week, it could curtail the policymaking options of Congress for a generation. An adverse decision on the Affordable Care Act could even jeopardize the prospects for conservative legislative priorities, like health-insurance vouchers or private retirement accounts in lieu of Social Security. It is simply not the Supreme Court’s business to be making these kinds of judgments. The awesome, and final, powers of the Justices are best exercised sparingly and with restraint. Their normal burdens of interpreting laws are heavy enough. No one expects the Justices to be making health-care policy any more than we expect them to be picking Presidents, which, it may be remembered, is not exactly their strength, either.

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