Chief Justice Roberts left another scar on the presidency of George W. Bush this morning as he sided with liberal judges in an effort to uphold the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate. Nominated by ‘Dubya’ in 2005, Roberts was expected to support the opposition’s assertion that the mandate — requiring all Americans to purchase health insurance or face a stiff penalty — was unconstitutional under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, but ultimately handed down an unprecedented ruling that called the individual mandate only a penalty — a hefty fine or tax that would be inflicted on American citizens who do not comply with the federal government’s requirement that they purchase health insurance — legal under Congress’s power to impose taxes.
Never mind that this ruling essentially makes it legal for Congress to tax you for anything they want — including as a penalty for not doing as they say — one has to wonder if Roberts’ swing from the right is enough to shake conservative voters’ faith in the ability to affect lasting policy change from the polls. With an aging group of Supreme Court justices currently at the helm of the highest court in the land, much lip service has been given to the significance of this fall’s general election. If Justice Roberts had held his party line, today’s decision could have confirmed the importance of a Republican president being the one to make (what are considered inevitable) nominations during the next term, but his abandonment may have the very opposite effect.
Well, that or he’s the most ingenious political mastermind of our time. The narrow 5-4 ruling accepted the Obama administration’s argument that the individual mandate penalty is actually a tax — something even Obama himself had denied repeatedly — effectively making Obama the president who has enacted one of the single biggest tax hikes on the poor and middle class in the history of the nation. The wealthy have and can afford health insurance as it is, the mandate does nothing for them and, more importantly, penalizes them for nothing. It’s the middle class and the working poor, those who cannot afford now and will still not be able to afford then, the health insurance itself let alone the staggering penalty for their financial shortcomings.
And if there’s anything that Americans hate, it’s being taxed. Taxation spurred the first revolution, it may just spur the second — if no where else, at the polls in November.
Diana Prichard is a red-leaning freelance writer and farmer living and working in a blue state. She authors Righteous Bacon and contributes both food policy and general political commentary to a variety of media outlets.