It was a good day for Chief Justice Roberts and President Obama, for the Supreme Court, and for our country.
As my previous post indicates, I think national health care insurance is a good thing. I was watching CNN at 10:10 am when it put its foot in its mouth and announced that the individual mandate had been overturned, so I was doubly joyous when CNN reversed itself on appeal at 10:16.
Most Americans do not think much about how important it is to have an independent, life tenured high court. Nor do we think much about how people will act — and change — when they have that kind of job security. I used to spend a lot of time with judges and attorneys. The interactions are interesting to watch. The bar is a tribe apart.
Chief Justice Roberts put down his marker today — that he will not be taken for granted. is not in anyone’s pocket, does not see himself as an ideologue, and has ambitions for a legacy of his own. He will be in his current position, good health permitting, for 20 years or more. He has no reason to care how many people, conservatives today, liberals again tomorrow, are furious with him. He cares what the bar thinks, his community of peers.
Barack Obama is from the same tribe of legal scholars. He has four, maybe eight years to make his mark. In this instance, he kept his cool under huge pressure and way too much second guessing (I mean, really, Robert Samuelson, what were you thinking?). He surely knew everything about the arguments being advanced by his attorneys, and together they came out with the winning position on his own legacy — and won on the issue of taxes! God is nothing if not ironic, huh?
Since reading David Remnick’s excellent biography of Obama and its chapter about his rise at Harvard Law School, I have predicted that we will see this past four years less as a era of partisan politics than as a unique contest of wills and ideas between a President and Chief Justice. Obama and Roberts: two men of roughly the same age and training in constitutional law, with diametrically opposed views, each heading a branch of the U.S. government at opposite ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. It’s a fascinating situation and one with few precedents.
Today showed how closely the two men are locked together in history — in their hope to be remembered as leaders in a grand tradition of thoughtful, intricate legal analysis and argument about the role of democratic government tracing to the Founding Fathers and beyond.
Speaking of the Founders, wouldn’t James Madison have been happy today about how the system of separation of powers was bearing up under enormous strain? For a moment there, I was getting worried.
We all have a responsibility to make this health care system work better, for more people, and to control costs. But we will do it together. Massachusetts was the laboratory, so thank you Governor Romney too. We will all have what our members of Congress and the justices of the Supreme Court already have: health insurance! Hurrah!