Not much good about court’s decision

Published 9:47 pm Thursday, July 5, 2012

By Frederick M. Quayle

Conservatives across the country were disappointed when their champion, Chief Justice John Roberts, joined with the liberal wing of the Supreme Court to uphold Obama’s health care law. Then, as rumors began to surface that he had changed his vote at the last minute from opposition to support, that disappointment turned into anger.

Pundits variously opined that he had succumbed to media and political criticism from the left; that he was trying to reinforce the integrity of the court in the public’s eye; that he was establishing his legacy as chief justice; or that he was trying to convince the public that the court is apolitical. Much of the media criticism dates back to the decision in Bush v. Gore in 2000. Despite the rhetoric, no review or recount of the votes in Florida has ever indicated a change in the results of that election.


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If the chief justice was trying to make the court look less political, his actions had exactly the opposite effect. The decision not to look political was just that, purely political. In my court-watching years, I don’t remember a single liberal justice or chief justice who based his or her decision on any of those concerns. They simply cast their lot with the most liberal interpretation of any decision.

The court got at least one thing right. The majority’s interpretation of the Commerce Clause — that inactivity cannot be considered commerce — may stop, or at least slow down, Congress in trying to impose their will upon the citizens through the tortured use of the Commerce Clause.

If Chief Justice Roberts was trying to apply these restraints, he perhaps deserves “faint praise.” However, he could have very easily accomplished that by siding with the minority in overturning the entire law.

Everyone expected Justice Kennedy to be the swing vote in this decision, as he has been in many close calls. The questions he posed at the hearings reinforced the notion that he would side with the conservative justices on this issue, and that is what he did. Reports indicate he tried mightily to get Chief Justice Roberts to join with the four opponents, to no avail.

The only other good to come from this decision was the ruling that Congress could not penalize the states by withdrawing their existing federal Medicaid funds if they did not accept the greatly expanded Medicaid plan that Obamacare calls for. That has long been a favorite tool of Congress for dictating their mandates to the states.

Of course, if the states refuse to embrace the new Medicaid rules, which Florida has already indicated they would do, that leaves millions of individuals uninsured whom Obamacare was designed to serve.

No one questions the need for substantial changes in the way we provide medical care, nor do we argue the need to make it more affordable and available to those citizens who for whatever reason are unable to obtain it on their own.

That was never the basis for the opposition to Obamacare. It was all about turning almost 20 percent of the nation’s economy over to the federal government, which has not fared too well with the programs that it already runs: Social Security (financially unsustainable), Medicare (financially unsustainable), Medicaid (financially unsustainable), and the U.S. Postal Service (bankrupt).

It also creates more than 20 new bureaucracies to deal with the intricacies of an unfathomable 2,700-page bill, which probably not one proponent read in its entirety before voting.

This is an unconscionable concentration of power in nonelected bureaucrats, who would be making life-and-death decisions for all of us. And even then, to get a majority of one vote, it was necessary to bribe at least three members of Congress with special dispensations for their states and constituents.

We have had a three-year national debate about health care. Everyone knows the problems we face in providing effective, affordable care to the greatest number of people. We have discussed many ways of dealing with the real and apparent problems that currently exist in our health care system.

It is now the job of the states to consider and deal with these health care concerns using the means that are most advantageous, affordable and workable for them.

Frederick M. Quayle was Suffolk’s First Citizen in 2011. He holds a degree in law from the T.C. Williams School of Law and represented the city in the Virginia Senate from 1993 through 2011. Email him at