Witte: All eyes on the court

Jacob Witte

The Supreme Court is quickly becoming the most politicized branch of government. The Supreme Court — which is supposed to be the only of the three branches of government that, since its conception, was supposed to be apolitical and deal solely with the law — has, in the last few weeks, become the most important of the three.

Many Americans — who likely did not know there were nine justices, let alone any of their names — now, thanks to the Affordable Care Act being reviewed by the High Court, are honing in on the court like TMZ on the latest celebrity gossip scoop. And boy, is it entertaining. The tables have turned a complete 180 as to the usual reactions to the justices.

In one corner, we have the Republican Party, which is usually the reactionary wing when it comes to the Supreme Court, citing “judicial activism” for any such ruling that goes against its doctrines. You know, rulings like extending marriage rights, giving women basic rights over their own bodies or giving suspected criminals the most paltry of rights to a defense.

Then there is the Democratic Party, which traditionally champions rulings that extend rights to people. You know, flesh-and-blood people, as opposed to synthetic bodies, like corporations (sorry, Mitt).

However, since the oral arguments at the high court two weeks ago, when the individual mandate aspect of the Affordable Care Act was picked apart like a turkey on Thanksgiving, the roles of the two parties have seemingly been reversed.

First, Barack Obama issued a rather stern warning, stating that it would be “unprecedented” that such a major law be struck down by “unelected” justices, a law that, he went on to say, “was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress.”

Then, many within the Republican Party were quick to actually back the justices. This seems to be more unprecedented than anything, especially with such prominent figures such as Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum having openly contemptuous relationships with those in the judicial branch. Several commentators also noted that Obama was “intimidating” the Justices who dared vote against the health insurance reform.

In this author’s opinion, the Affordable Care Act will likely be struck down by the court. To what degree, however, is the pertinent question. The act could, if the justices see fit, simply call the individual mandate unconstitutional and leave the rest or, in the worst case scenario (for the Obama administration), strike down the entire law because so much of it depends on the individual mandate.

Jeffrey Toobin, prominent legal expert and writer for The New Yorker, called the oral arguments a “train wreck” for the justice department defending the act. Anthony Kennedy, the key swing vote on the court, spent some time asking about the individual mandate, lending doubts for the Obama administration.

If the Affordable Care Act does get struck down, by any degree, it will certainly test the political skill of the president. A critical skill of an artful politician is imperturbability, which is the ability to take a challenge and meet it head on and not become perturbed by it. The president will have to take active steps to see that health insurance reform is in some way or another kept in America. Whether Republicans will play ball, though, is another question.

If, on the other hand, the act is upheld by the court, we likely will see calls to impeach the justices who voted to keep it, in the same manner that we Iowans witnessed with the ruling Varnum v. Brien in 2009. The case regarding the Affordable Care Act is an extremely high-profile case, likely the most prolific since Bush v. Gore in 2000, and with similar ramifications at stake.

On a side note, while all the rage is transpiring about the Affordable Care Act, the Supreme Court quietly handed down an opinion allowing full strip searches for any and all people taken into custody, no matter how minor the crime. Those damn big-government liberals, right? Wrong. It was the conservative, “small-government” bloc of the court (Scalia, Thomas, Alito, Roberts and Kennedy) that ruled in the majority on this one. How does that sound for judicial activism?