We are madly searching for meaning in the dust patterns that settled here in the impact crater from yesterday’s Supreme Court decision on health care reform. The Roberts court appears to have ruled without partisanship; at least not in the 5-4 ideological split that was widely predicted. Chief Justice John Roberts, appointee of President George W. Bush, sided with the liberal wing to create a majority that was something of a careful compromise. To which a grateful nation replied: Buh?

If you can’t explain this ruling in partisan terms, most of us don’t immediately know how to feel about it. It’s complicated. We have to think about it — all of us, even the people advising us on how to think.

So Charles Krauthammer’s column today was a chewy rumination on why someone with conservative political principles would have done what Roberts did. Krauthammer argues essentially that Roberts had two conflicting roles to play: his philosophical self — what he believed about the Affordable Care Act — and his Chief Justice self — concerned with legacy, and with how the Supreme Court should be perceived by the American people. The latter won out, Krauthammer says: Roberts found a way to be repelled by what he sees as constitutional overreaching while still finding narrow grounds to uphold the law and declare the court to be above ideological prejudice.

In the toxic, polarized political climate of the last decade or so, the notion of partisanship ceding to principle earns its own:


Many commenters on the right took Krauthammer’s point, but not his largely benign view of it. They argue that this argument makes Roberts’ decision seem even worse.

adifferentpointofview says that if Krauthammer is right, the system is corrupt:

Mr. Krauthammer’s analysis may be right, but if it is, it means that Roberts went against what he truly believes the law to be and made a ruling solely to save the appearance of fairness of the court.

ScottinVA agrees:

The court is delegitimized by the craven decision to attempt to “legitimize” it before the people.

Worse yet, outofthebox1 says, it doesn’t even accomplish the appearance of nonpartisanship, while selling out the ideals of the court:

Roberts did it to salvage the Court’s reputation in the minds of the great lazy mass of Americans who won’t try to understand the reasoning behind this decision. The threat to the Court’s reputation was the view that it made up silly rules so its decisions came out the way it wanted, e.g., Bush v Gore. So Roberts made up a silly justification. If Roberts was correct in his confirmation hearings that judges should be like umpires calling balls and strikes, this decision was an “even up” call to make it appear that the Court is even-handed.

An international commenter, UK_spectator, despairs of ever prying the perception of partisanship off the court:

As a foreigner the thing I don’t get is this: You have a system where a bunch of nine people are appointed, supposedly impartial, and in theory based on their deep knowledge of the law and the constitution. [But] every time one is appointed nearly everyone treats it as a purely partisan activity and spends ages interpreting the partisan impact of the appointment.

You only trust them when they give the answer you want. What on earth is the point of wasting time and money on such a dysfunctional process?

Yeah, UK_spectator, that is puzzling. It’s almost as weird as a modern democracy also having a monarchy.

kitchendragon50 doesn’t even think the compromise made a difference:

So, they can’t compel you to do something under the Commerce Clause but can punish you for any reason under the tax powers. Next, you’ll be penalized for not visiting the doctor once a year.

menopausequeen thinks Roberts is being impartial ... like a fox. Noting that Roberts said:

“It is not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices,”

menopausequeen said:

I love his choice of words “consequences.”

Menopausequeen, we love your name.

joseph22 agrees with her. It actually was partisan, he says, so we can all just calm down:

Roberts cleverly set the GOP up for a huge win in November by pushing the election back to 2010. Not only will the law get repealed, but the GOP will have complete control of the government. Way to go Roberts.

All in all, we were surprised by the generally civil and un-histrionic nature of the comments. We will end with one we didn’t understand. Despite PostScript’s surname, she speaks no German, but assumes luca_20009 is making a totally reasonable and sophisticated point in his or her native language:

ein volk ein Reich ein fuhrer.