My Turn: Justice Roberts a turncoat … or hero?

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 8, 2012

By Bruce La Rue

Upon hearing that the Supreme Court had voted 5-4 in favor of a main provision of Obamacare, I immediately assumed that Justice Kennedy had cast the deciding vote, which had me bummed. Upon discovering that Chief Justice Roberts had cast the swing vote, I was too perplexed to be indignant. It made no sense for a conservative justice to pitch his tent to the left of Justice Kennedy. Unless …
The scenario plays like an episode from the old “Twilight Zone” series.
What if Chief Justice Roberts has just played the Democrats in much the same manner as Lt. Col. Oliver North toyed with them during the Iran-Contra inquisition? It is my theory that the chief justice, probably intentionally, perhaps not, has struck a hammer blow to the re-election efforts of the Obama administration. Had the high court thrown out the bath water along with the ugly baby, the Obama campaign may well have gained support from at least two fronts. They could have ramped up their claims of obstructionism on the part of Republicans, mounting a surge, if you will, thereby forcing the GOP into defensive mode. This strategy might have resulted in making some of those precious moderates and independents a little queasy about voting for Romney.
The other benefit of a defeat in the high court involves emotion. The president may have enjoyed a bump in the polls from two divergent voter blocs, the sympathy vote and the outrage vote. Is there any doubt that the “occupy” types, facing defeat, would have poured into the streets, set businesses afire, overturned cars and pelted law enforcement officers with rocks and bottles (leaving a mess for someone else to clean up)? Compare and contrast all that with the reaction from the right following the defeat — class, dignity, and a renewed resolve. The sympathy vote, combined with the outrage vote, might have been enough to tip the scales in the direction of a second, lame-duck, scorched-earth term for President Obama.
Yet another possible dart from Chief Justice Roberts is his insistence on proper nomenclature. The only way he can sign off on the individual mandate enforcement mechanism is to call it a tax, not a penalty, thereby forcing the Obama administration to defend the indefensible for the next four months. This opens the door for potential gaffes, misspeak and contradictory statements galore. I suspect Joe Biden will be granted a four-month vacation to some remote island with no means of communication with the outside world.
“Look, it’s a message in a bottle.”
“What does it say?”
“It says, “Well, yeah, it’s a tax on just about everybody. Duh. Signed, J.B. p.s. Still waiting on a train schedule.”
Still another barb from the chief justice was his not-so-veiled admonition to us, the electorate. He clearly chastised us, letting us know in no uncertain terms that it is the role of the Supreme Court to interpret the Constitution, not clean up our messes. His message was clear; bad law is not necessarily unconstitutional, nor is it a function of the court to fix bad law. It is the responsibility of voters to reverse bad law, beginning at the ballot box. If that was his subtle message, I shudder to think what manner of descriptive speech must have passed his lips behind slammed doors. It is a tongue-lashing that we deserve. We vote like idiots. Charisma over character, symbolism over substance.
Finally, Chief Justice Roberts has set himself up as a non-partisan jurist. He now has bench creds. He can lay claim to judicial integrity, having voted in opposition to the conservatives. Could he be saving his pro-conservative swing vote for a revisit of Roe v. Wade? Perhaps he thinks the law will be repealed soon after he swears in Mitt Romney, who should slip the judge a fiver for his part in affecting the outcome of the election.
Did Chief Justice Roberts jump ship? Hardly. What he has done is chart a course for the S.S. Obama Campaign which will lead it straight onto the rocks. Pure genius.

Bruce La Rue lives in Mt. Ulla.