In civics class we learn that federal courts decide whether laws passed by Congress and the state legislatures are constitutional. Therefore the federal courts are the guardians of our Constitution. That is certainly true, but it not the whole story. In fact, the most important function of the federal courts is to legitimate state building by the political branches...As expected and fitting given its importance, the Supreme Court decision upholding the Affordable Care Act (the "ACA" or what conservatives have derisively labeled "Obamacare") has generated much national discussion. For all of the partisan hackery, hysterics, bloviating, right-wing madness and appeals to a Civil War, as well as orgasmic histrionics, there are some really smart people, who are saying some really smart things about the Supreme Court's decision--and what the debates surrounding the Affordable Care Act tell us about American politics and political culture.
Some have called Roberts' opinion statesmanlike, putting aside personal ideology to apply the law. Others have called it clever, handing conservatives an ideological victory while giving Democrats a policy result they like. My own view is that the Court as a whole performed the traditional function of federal judges in our constitutional system. The political branches sought to build out the American state and change the terms of the American social contract. The Court legitimated this result, but set new ground rules for politics going forward.
What does the decision mean in terms of constitutional doctrine? Much will depend on who wins the next several presidential elections.
[There is so much good stuff out there on this issue; please do send in your reading suggestions as well.]
The Supreme Court's decision upholding the ACA is a lightning rod for the deep divides of party and ideology in the United States where one person's belief that it is reasonable, long overdue, and ethically justified to provide a modest extension of the social safety net through the ACA, is another person's tyrannical decision by "big government" to usurp their individual rights and liberties. These fractious moments--if folks can get past the yelling and reason interfering with emotion--are actually opportunities to conduct a national civics lesson.