Roberts Rules

June 28th, 2012

Inspired by the Court’s, and particularly the Chief Justice’s, decision on healthcare reform this morning. (Read my further prose discussion below for why the 5-4 decision upholding the individual mandate  is actually a stronger statement than a 6-3 decision would have been.)


Sometimes in Court rulings, the biggest surprise

Is who ends up being among your allies.


In this case, Chief Justice Roberts joined in the law’s upholding,

And not just for the tactical advantage of the decision molding.


Roberts could have joined with opponents to kill healthcare reform,

But instead chose to uphold his sworn Constitutional norm.


Mr. Chief Justice, I’m sorry for previously thinking you’re a tool.

As of today, Mr. Chief Justice: you rule!


Here’s MSNBC’s 6/28/12 coverage. Chris Matthews makes the excellent point that President Obama is far better off with a 5-4 decision in his favor led by Justice Roberts than he would have been with a 5-4 decision led by Kennedy. Chris, I’ll do you one better. In one way, the 5-4 decision with Roberts holding for the ACA’s constitutionality is better than a 6-3 decision would have been. The reason that a 6-3 decision upholding was thought more likely than a 5-4 decision upholding is that the Chief Justice would then join that 5-4 decision upholding in order to (1) bolster public opinion of the Supreme Court by avoiding another 5-4 decision on such a key measure, and (2) allow the Chief Justice to control who writes the majority opinion, and hence to control its content and limit the damage. So, a 6-3 decision would have been viewed by many analysts as indication that Roberts was really against the ACA, but voted to uphold it for tactical reasons (similar to how when Senate Majority Leader Reid votes against a bill which he supports in order to preserve the right to bring it back up). But, by voting to uphold when he didn’t have to and could single-handedly have brought the ACA down, Roberts makes a much more powerful statement.

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PS: Our title is of course a reference to the classic treatise, Roberts Rules of Order. The first edition was published in 1876, and since then it’s been the leading guide to parliamentary/congressional decision-making. But as with our judicial system, if civility and mutual trust break down, so does order and effectiveness. The reason Chief Justice Roberts “rules” (at least for now), is that his decision today will hopeful begin our national trek back to that mutual trust and civility.

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One Response to “Roberts Rules”

  1. Newsericks » Blog Archive » The Marbury Man Says:

    […] I’m not saying that’s the only or even main reason Roberts did it; […]

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