When The Most Powerful Man in the World woke up the morning of June 28, he knew one thing for certain: the Attorney General of the United States, Eric Holder would be cited for contempt of Congress by a partisan, Tea Party controlled House of Representatives.
He also knew his most important accomplishment of his political career was on the verge of being undone and possibly signal the end of it.
What President Obama didn’t know is how the Supreme Court would rule on the constitutionality of his signature domestic policy accomplishment, healthcare reform, or “Obamacare.”
When the Court is about to hand down a critical decision, the president does not get any advance notification on which way the Supremes are going. He learns the same time the rest of us do. Obama knew the vote would probably go 5-4, but which way? Would the Court strike down the entire law or the individual mandate, the thread which once pulled would cause the entire plan to unravel.
Or would they throw out other provisions and let the rest stay intact. There were also better than even odds the justices would uphold the law. The question was who had the fifth vote? Otherwise know as TIME magazine’s “The Decider,” Anthony Kennedy who was on the majority side over 90 percent. Would he side with the four hardcore conservatives, Roberts, Scalia, Thomas and Alito or had Kennedy joined the Court’s moderates (there are no liberals on this Supreme Court) , Ginsberg, Kagan, Breyer and Sotomayor?
The Court would announce its decision at 10:00 a.m. as the press and their legion of experts stood ready to offer instant analysis. The Republicans had dispatched several members to pronounce the eulogy for Obamacare despite House Speaker John Boehner declaring there would be no “spiking of the football” if the Court slapped down the president. Democrats had begun to send out fundraising appeals the day before fully expecting the Roberts Court would hand them a devastating defeat.
After all, it was a forgone conclusion that Scalia, Thomas and Alito wouldn’t give the president the sweat off their balls if he were in the desert dying of thirst. As for Chief John Roberts, why should he feel inclined to do Obama any favors? Hadn’t Senator Obama been one of the 22 who voted against his confirmation in 2005? Three years later, Roberts embarrassed himself (and noticeably irked Obama) by botching the oath of office while swearing-in the new president thus forcing a “do over” ceremony the next day.
Relations between the Supreme Court and President Obama got even worse when after the Citizens United ruling that opened the door for corporations and wealthy individuals to spend however much they like on political campaigns, the president broke Washington protocol by directly chiding the decision while members of the Court were in attendance at the State of the Union address.
When Obama writes his autobiography of his presidential years, he may reveal what was going through his mind while he stood in the White House watching four televisions announcing the ruling. Initially, CNN and Fox News reported the individual mandate had been struck down. but a White House attorney cleared up the confusion with a thumbs-up to the president that the mandate had survived and the Affordable Care Act was still the law of the land.
The surprise came when it was learned the fifth vote to uphold had come not from Kennedy as expected, but Roberts. As it turns out Kennedy made it clear in the dissenting opinion he authored for Scalia, Thomas and Alito, he was firmly opposed to Obamacare writing, “in our view, the entire Act before us is invalid in its entirety.”
So much for the media myth of Tony Kennedy the closet moderate. This might be the moment to recall it was TIME that also called Jon Huntsman the Republican candidate Obama most feared.
Supreme Court watchers who were speculating how the justices would rule and which one would save Obamacare or sink it, have now turned to wondering aloud, why Roberts saved the president from a humiliating defeat in June that could have been the catalyst for a total meltdown in November. Some theorize Roberts did not want a repeat of the scorn and contempt heaped on the Court as it was in 2000 when they stopped the recount in Florida and appointed George W. Bush as the president. Others believe the Chief was looking down the road to the fall when Obama faces the voters for a second term. If the Republicans are triumphant they may get the chance to gut healthcare reform themselves and spare the court from criticism of being right-wing judicial activists (which by the way, they are).
It’s too soon to tell when Inauguration Day comes in January 2013 if it will be Barack Obama raising his right arm to take the oath of office for a second time or Willard Romney for the first, but regardless of which of the two it is, John Roberts will be there to administer it and that insincere smile he wears will be in part because how he ruled on Obamacare weighed heavily in reelecting the incumbent or electing his challenger.
- SCOTUSblog publisher predicts: The Court will uphold the mandate (hotair.com)
- ObamaCare Will Define John Roberts’ Supreme Court (newser.com)
- Robert Reich: Why the Supreme Court Will Uphold the Constitutionality of Obamacare (huffingtonpost.com)