The Affordable Healthcare Act, the Supreme Court and the U.S. Bishops

Chief Justice John Roberts’ decision to join the progressive wing of the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act is earning him the expected vilification in the Tea and Republican Parties, both of them now controlled by wealthy extremists who disdain the political center and the responsible moderation and compromise that might achieve meaningful political progress in this country. God bless our Chief Justice and give him strength. He will need it to deal with the onslaught to come from the right wing crazies. One conservative commentator even blamed the “cognitive dissociation” of the Chief Justice’s opinion on his epilepsy medication. When the Chief Justice said, at a judicial conference after the ACA decision was issued, that he would have to take refuge in an “impregnable fortress” he was only half-joking.

But think about what upholding the ACA achieved:


- Young people can remain on their parents’ health insurance until age 26. At a time when many folks just out of college are having trouble finding employment due to the stagnant economy, which in turn is caused by that same right wing refusal to compromise on issues of stimulus and tax reform, this is quite a benefit. Without it, these young people would be at great risk, unable to afford their own health care coverage.

- Lifetime limits placed by insurance companies on healthcare coverage, the kind that often leave seniors without adequate health insurance when they need it most, in their final years, are gone.

- The elderly can also keep the ACA generated discounts on their prescription drugs.

- Insurance companies can no longer refuse coverage to children (and this will soon expand to include us all) for a pre-existing condition.

- Insurance companies can no longer refuse renewals to their customers who get sick.

- Healthcare premiums can now only go up when the companies can justify the increase; gouging is gone.

- Preventive care is now covered to prevent the onslaught of illness or to catch it and treat it at its earliest stages.

The Chief Justice’s vote rejected the clear political partisanship of the dissenting opinion in the ACA case. Four Justices, all Republican appointees, and, sad to say, all Catholics, would have declared the entire act unconstitutional. The harm that such a blatantly political act would have done to the credibility of the Court (already at a low point because of these Justices’ prior political shenanigans) apparently did not matter to them. Nor did it trouble them that their decision would have wreaked phenomenal cruelty by the denial of necessary healthcare to the young, the poor and the elderly. If ever a group needed to be catechized by our bishops, it is these four, not on what the Constitution means, but on what the 25th chapter of Matthew means.

And speaking of our bishops, one would think that, once all the very good things that the ACA does were upheld, religious leaders with a concern for social justice would be happy with the Court’s decision. Until the ACA, the United States was the only major western democracy without universal healthcare coverage (and truth to tell, because of the need to compromise, which the President to his credit did, the ACA provides almost, but not complete, universal coverage). So it is troubling to see our bishops, who are true moral leaders, sitting sadly on the sidelines again. The bishops’ statement in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision is anything but joyful.

Their statement offers no congratulations on the tremendous achievement that the ACA is. Rather, it complains about three things: (1) That the ACA funds abortions. It does not. (2) That the HHS regs on mandated coverage for the ACA do not have appropriate conscience protections. In fact, the regs are still being worked out, and in the meantime, the church itself and church-affiliated agencies are covered by exemptions, although perhaps not phrased as the bishops would want these exemptions to be phrased. But the bishops are partially correct here. The regs need work. And (3) That the ACA fails to treat immigrant workers and their families fairly.

This last is a just criticism of the ACA by the bishops. The ACA does not adequately provide for immigrant workers and their families because they are excluded from participating in the new health care exchanges that the ACA creates to lower insurance costs. But if the bishops want this part of the ACA changed, they need to talk to the anti-immigrant Republican politicians. You know, the ones but for whom the Dream Act and meaningful immigration reform would be law by now.

I would not count on any help from that quarter, though. Despite the partisan boost, whether intended or not, that our bishops’ religious freedom campaign has provided those right wingers and their presidential candidate, our bishops are still standing up for the poor. They have harshly criticized the Romney-endorsed Ryan budget that cuts $5.3 trillion from anti-poverty programs in order to fund additional tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. That criticism will make the bishops no friends and get them no help from these extremists, who luxuriating in their wealth and the sense of power that it gives them, brook no dissent. If these extremists can throw Chief Justice Roberts under the bus for not siding with them 100 percent of the time, they can do it to anybody.

Nicholas P. Cafardi


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Vince Killoran
5 years 4 months ago
You're flailing on this one Josh, i.e., ["S]how me a labor case in which a liberal sided with a conservative majority on conservative grounds."  What do you mean by "on conservative grounds"?  Did Roberts vote "on liberal grounds"? 

You asked where they sided w/conservatives and we've provided a couple of examples. The fact is that the so-called liberals aren't that liberal.
Renz R
5 years 4 months ago
Health care cost has increased annually everywhere. According to the report, this is due to the Affordable Care Act, and also you probably do not have the cash to pay for all the additional costs. If you need help paying for something, a pay day loan can help you. They are especially good whenever you have an emergency and need to go to the hospital.

Joshua DeCuir
5 years 4 months ago
Leading up to Thursday's ruling prominent liberal bloggers and commenters were arguing that Roberts was leading, in the words of James Fallows of the Atlantic, a "right-wing coup"; Jeffrey Toobin published an article in the New Yorker asserting that Roberts was pushing the court further to the right than it ever had been; Jon Chait argued in the New York Magazine that Roberts and his conservative colleagues were unmooring the Constitution and risked turning America into a bannana republic.

Now, of course, he's a hero to them.  But I wonder what their reaction would be if, next term, CJ Roberts votes to uphold, say, the Defense of Marriage Act on grounds of constitutional avoidance and judicial modesty?

While I don't agree with the specific outcome of the ACA opinion, I say "three cheers" for CJ Roberts (but I said that before Thursday, too).  As George Will has pointed out, the opinion represents a significant win for legal conservatives, as we now have a 5 justice majority to impose restrictions on Congress's power under the Commerce Clause.

By the way, when was the last time a liberal justice sided with the conservatives on a hot-button issue like, say, abortion?  Yet those liberals are NEVER acting out of partisanship, huh?  Curious how that works.
Vince Killoran
5 years 4 months ago
Josh asks (I've noticed all of our conservative bloggers asking this so it must be the week's "talking point"):"[W]hen was the last time a liberal justice sided with the conservatives on a hot-button issue like, say, abortion?  Yet those liberals are NEVER acting out of partisanship, huh?  Curious how that works."

You don't have to look very far at all Josh, e.g., KNOX V. SEIU-it was announced just a couple of weeks ago on a 7-2 vote against the SEIU.  In fact, the so-called "liberals" are pretty wobbly in their lean to the left (see
Liam Richardson
5 years 4 months ago
And those liberal justices voted with Roberts to strike down the penalty for refusing the Medicaid expansion. 
Joshua DeCuir
5 years 4 months ago
Notice the qualifer to my post: "hot button [social] issue."

Any observer of the Court will tell you that MOST decisions the Court makes are 9-0 or some other combination.

But I didn't make the original charge of partisanhsip, did I?

So, let's try it again: show me an opinon on, say, abortion, where the liberals sided with the conservatives? 
Liam Richardson
5 years 4 months ago

Medicaid is a social issue, and a hot button one at that. It may not be one YOU care about, that's all.
Vince Killoran
5 years 4 months ago
Yeah, Karl's right: You may think that liberals or progressives begin and end each day thinking only about abortion rights but the folks I hang out with are interested in a wide range of issues.  Labor rights is especially important. Think: Scott Walker and his anti-CB campaign.
Joshua DeCuir
5 years 4 months ago
"Labor rights is especially important."

Ok; show me a labor case in which a liberal sided with a conservative majority on conservative grounds.

PS - My point is that, rather than be so quick to see partisanship on only one side of the court, why is it unreasonable to assume that, despite every single justice having a very clear ideological and intellectual commitments (as they should), by and large the justices tend to reach decisions that are fair, contrary to the assertions of LIBERAL bloggers before the ACA that the Supreme Court was ruled over by an unhinged political radical in John Roberts.

I think Ross Douthat made the case well: "Nonetheless, liberals who waxed hysterical about a politicized court need to reckon with the fact that the most “political” of all the opinions on the health care law was the one that ultimately upheld it."


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