Monday, July 30, 2012

A Final Thought on the Roberts Ruling

I think that, a few weeks in, this has been armchair-quarterbacked from every conceivable angle; but before I move on, let me offer up one last musing on the healthcare decision.
Our government is supposed to be one of enumerated powers and written laws. Such is the source of anything it has approaching a claim to stability. It is also designed around balancing powers across different groups with different interests - the checks and balances we (at least, some of us) were taught to see as critical protections against abuse of political power. And so they are.
The problem, the way I see it, is one of perception. Our political ideologies have become so many religious creeds; but since they each claim to proceed from Constitutional principles - however they happen to employ the phrase - it has made constitutionality synonymous with "whatever is anathema to my partisan beliefs." Which is silly.
Checks and balances, devised by men, will only stand while men respect them; and only against those things they were designed to protect. Much hay has been made of the "fact" that the courts are the last defense against government overreach, but that has never been the case. Courts are a speed bump on the superhighway to tyranny, certainly, but as such they can only legitimately address themselves to the appropriation of new powers or the expansion of enumerated ones beyond their established boundaries. We have seen the results of not adhering to that philosophy, and they are erratic at best. What we should hope for is a court system that keeps the machinery of government contained, but is otherwise reticent to tinker with the engine - a philosophy called "judicial restraint."
Incidentally, judicial restraint is exactly what we got in Justice Roberts' ruling. Commentators have either applauded or vilified the ruling, depending on which half of the Constitutional Janus they've prostrated before. However, their critiques, as far as I have been able to dissect them, are underpinned by a political prejudice as to the policy of the ACA itself. They have not, that I have noticed, thought to accept Roberts' own justification that his job is to find a constitutional niche for a law before considering invalidation. I'm personally grateful that there are still judges in the world who don't see themselves as the masters and commanders of the ship of state and the political barque.
If we had more judges with that kind of principled mettle, I might not be as down on the probable future of our republic as I am. Oh, well.

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