WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision upholding the nation’s health care law marks an enormous political victory for President Barack Obama in the heat of a re-election campaign, and affirmation as well for the Democrats’ decades-long drive to extend coverage to millions of Americans who now go without.
But if the sweeping changes mandated by the law will go forward, so, too the political controversy. Presidential challenger Mitt Romney and Republicans seeking control of Congress will see to that, seizing already on Chief Justice John Roberts’ ruling that the law levies a new tax on anyone refusing to purchase coverage.
The decision was rich in irony as well as in history.
It was the second time in four days — a ruling Monday threw out much of an Arizona state law on immigration — that a Roberts’-led majority upheld the Obama administration’s position on a noisy, contentious issue that has roiled the nation’s politics for years.
The chief justice came into office in 2005 as the brightest star of a younger generation of conservative legal experts, a man whose resume suggested he had been virtually groomed for the high court. Adept politically, he disarmed his critics when he told his confirmation hearing that a judge’s role was “to call balls and strikes and not to pitch and bat.”
One who was not persuaded at the time was then-Sen. Barack Obama, campaigning for the support of liberals and other Democratic primary voters as he pursued the party’s presidential nomination. He pronounced Roberts qualified for the high court, but then added that throughout the nominee’s legal career to date, “he has far more often used his formidable skills on behalf of the strong in opposition to the weak.”
On this case, at least, Roberts seemed to be ruling through gritted teeth.