The Supreme Court recently heard oral arguments regarding the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, nicknamed “Obamacare.” It was a case the Supreme Court practically had to take, considering several lower courts issued conflicting rulings on the constitutionality of the law, and the Court rightly felt the need to conclusively determine if the law is or is not constitutional.
Obviously this is one of the biggest Supreme Court cases in recent memory, and probably one of the biggest cases in the history of the Court itself. A strongly divided Supreme Court has to decide on the constitutionality of a bill that was created and passed by a strongly divided Congress, and which strongly divides the public as well.
In this Supreme Court case, perhaps more than most others, politics have clearly become a great factor in a legal process that generally tries to avoid political issues. The incredible importance and prominence of the bill has drawn many political voices into the conflict, and the case has naturally become politicized by both extremes of the country’s political spectrum.
Even the Supreme Court itself will be politicized in this case as the decision will most certainly be drawn down the ideological lines of the justices. It will most likely end up as either a 5-4 decision by the conservative justices to strike it down, or a 6-3 decision by the liberals and some of the conservatives to uphold the law.
In both cases, the swing vote is Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Court’s moderate. If he votes with the four conservatives, then the law is overturned. If he votes with the four liberals, then the law is upheld, and Chief Justice John Roberts would most likely vote with the liberals so he can write the Court’s opinion in a more limiting fashion.
Despite the narrowness of how the ruling will come down in this case, both the conservative and liberal sides in the debate regarding the health care law are claiming the Constitution as their ally in this fight. The conservatives ardently cry that the law’s individual mandate is unconstitutional, while the liberals earnestly assert that it is constitutional.
For both sides, the rhetoric has become incredibly strong. But what both sides seem to be forgetting is the irrevocable decision will ultimately be made by the Court.
No matter how much the liberals protest, if the Court strikes down the law, the law is unconstitutional. If the Court upholds the law, no matter how loud the conservatives are, the law is constitutional. And no matter how the Court decides, the losing side will argue the law is, in fact, still constitutional or unconstitutional.
Both sides forget the Court defines what the Constitution means and how it is interpreted. The Court’s word is final and binding, essentially saying whether this law does or does not conform to the limits and definitions on government that our founding document created. The Supreme Court is the highest and most absolute interpreter of our Constitution, meaning if the Court says a law is in accordance with the Constitution, then it is. Period.
And yet there will be plenty of people talking about how the Court made the wrong decision, and how their losing side is actually right, and that the law is constitutional or unconstitutional. But the complaining loser of the ruling is wrong. Whatever the Supreme Court decides is right, it is the interpretation of the Constitution, and anyone else’s opinion is irrelevant and incorrect.
That is how the Supreme Court functions; it is the final arbiter of interpreting the Constitution. And in this very controversial, very public case, the finality of the Supreme Court’s role is a very beneficial thing.