Objection, Your Honor: Irreverent (Commentary)

By Jose Vega ’13

If you have a pulse and you haven’t been stuck in a mine shaft over the past 24 hours, then you’ve already run across more information on the Supreme Court’s blockbuster decision this Thursday than you ever cared to. Within minutes of the Court’s decision, the twiterati, the blogoscenti, and the mainstream media flooded the internet with news and opinions about the landmark decision, leaving a trail of puns in its wake.

The Umpire Strikes Back,” crows The Atlantic.  “A clean bill of health,” writes The EconomistPolitico has no fewer than 30 articles on everything from the ruling’s impact on the Presidential election to chatter about impeaching Chief Justice Roberts. Most reports are insightful, others are absolute rubbish.

So rather than give you another lengthy analysis of the Court’s decision, its political consequences, or talk about whether or not the U.S. Constitution died on Thursday, I thought I would leave you with three excerpts of the Court’s opinion (if you want to know what the experts are saying, I highly recommend you visit some of the links above):

“The Court today holds that our Constitution protects us from federal regulation under the Commerce Clause . . . But from its creation, the Constitution has made no such promise with respect to taxes. See Letter from Benjamin Franklin to M. Le Roy (Nov. 13, 1789) (“Our new Constitution is now established . . . but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes”).

Of course! Death and taxes! This is as close as you get to finding humor in a Supreme Court decision. I really enjoyed this bit.

“Members of this Court are vested with the authority to interpret the law; we possess neither the expertise nor the prerogative to make policy judgments. Those decisions are entrusted to our Nation’s elected leaders, who can be thrown out of office if the people disagree with them. It is not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices.”

OK, on second read, this is kind of funny too. I don’t know I would use the word “expert” to describe most elected leaders. Great public speakers, yes. Well intentioned idealists, definitely. But paragons of expertise beyond the grasp of mere Supreme Court Justices? Doubtful.

“[T]he Court does not express any opinion on the wisdom of the Affordable Care Act. Under the Constitution, that judgment is reserved to the people.”

Maybe I’m wrong, but did Chief Justice Roberts just punt? Of course, the Chief Justice is right – the Court’s job is to interpret the law, not criticize it. I also understand his desire to distance the Court from the ensuing political maelstrom. But his apocryphal statement has the opposite effect. It plants a seed of doubt in our mind regarding the wisdom of the people, and it leaves us wondering whether in this instance we got it right. With all the media noise, it’s hard to tell.

Let’s hope we did.


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