WASHINGTON – US President Barack Obama won a major victory Thursday as the
Supreme Court let stand his signature piece of legislation, which expands
healthcare for Americans.
But the masses of people who turned out at the
courthouse to chant slogans and wave signs both for and against the policy
underscored the fractured nature of the country and the difficult political
landscape candidate Obama will face despite his legal win.
By avoiding a
ruling that would have left Obama looking weak and – as a constitutional lawyer
himself – foolish, the president has strengthened his stature and
That reinforces his standing heading into the November
At the same time, his political position might have been hurt,
as he now must defend a law that a majority of Americans oppose and whose
cornerstone the court has defined as a tax – an unsavory label sure to be seized
upon by Republicans.
Though the Obama administration argued that the Commerce Clause of the US Constitution allows a central funding mechanism of the
healthcare law – requiring all citizens above a certain income level to buy
insurance – the Supreme Court majority did not accept that reasoning; instead,
Chief Justice John Roberts ruled that the requirement was not permissible under
the Commerce Clause, but was under the federal government’s powers of
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) took to the
Senate floor within an hour after the ruling was handed down to proclaim, “The
Supreme Court has spoken: This law is a tax. The bill was sold to the American
people on a deception.”
And he pledged, “Republicans won’t let up
whatsoever in our determination to repeal this terrible law,” adding that just
because it is constitutional, does not mean it’s desirable.
GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney made the same point when he delivered his
response to the decision.
“What the court did today was say that
Obamacare does not violate the Constitution.
What they did not do was say
that Obamacare is good law or that it’s good policy,” Romney said, standing
behind a podium bearing the placard “Repeal and replace Obamacare.”
bad policy,” he continued.
“If we want to get rid of Obamacare, we’re
going to have to replace President Obama.”
In fact, it could well be that
the ruling galvanizes the Tea Party – an extreme wing of the Republican party
that Romney has had trouble attracting – to work more aggressively to unseat
As Rep. Michele Bachmann (RMinnesota), a Tea Party favorite and
early challenger to Romney, put it while speaking to CNN in front of the Supreme
Court, with legal options exhausted, “it’s extremely important that we are
energized and remember this at the ballot box in November.”
pleased many of the demonstrators gathered in front of the court, including Tea
Partiers decked out in Revolutionary War uniforms and holding flags proclaiming,
“Don’t tread on me.”
But they were met by advocates of the healthcare
law, who held their own signs declaring, “We love Obamacare” and “Hands off my
Though the 5-4 decision was drafted by Roberts, a George
Bush appointee, the other supporting justices were all selected by
Democratic presidents, and the strong dissents suggested the opinion would do
little to bridge the partisan divide on the issue.
Many Jewish groups,
whose members tend to be overwhelmingly Democratic, put out statements welcoming
“The president’s vision is consistent with Jewish
tradition, which is unambiguous about the requirement of a just and decent
society to provide a basic level of healthcare,” the Conservative Movement’s
Rabbinical Assembly said in welcoming the court’s decision.
National Council of Jewish Women praised the ruling as “a huge victory for women
and families around the country,” pointing to the law’s mandates for coverage of
preventative services for women’s health and for parity between men’s and
But one group – the Republican Jewish Coalition – was
quick to express disappointment at the court’s ruling.
negative effects this law will have on the economy, on jobs, on medical research
and development and on the quality of healthcare in America are very troubling,”
said RJC Executive Director Matt Brooks. “The American people will have the
opportunity to express their opinion on the wisdom of Obamacare in this election
Obama himself acknowledged the difficult politics of the issue
when he made a brief statement welcoming the decision a few hours after it was
“It should be pretty clear by now that I didn’t do this
because it was good politics,” he said. “I did this because I believed it was
good for the American people.”
He defended the law as helping to cover
children with preexisting conditions, ending lifetime limits on the amount of
care one receives and prohibiting insurance companies from dropping coverage for
those who are sick.
Those are arguments Obama is sure to make many times
between now and November.