NFIB v Sebelius

Two Cents on Tinfoil (Chief Injustice)

U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts at New York University School of Law, 20 November 2015. (Photo: Rick Kopstein/ALM)

To the one, who really likes Chief Justice John Roberts?

No, I mean, sure, you know, his wife and all, but still, is there any one of us who not only isn’t disappointed by Roberts’ general unreliability but, also―in counterpoint to the proposition that one must be doing something right if everyone is complaining―comprehends his underlying legal and juristic outlook well enough to properly endorse it?

To the other, there is this:

What explains the rise of Donald Trump? The right-wing blogosphere has a theory: Trump’s success in taking over the Republican party was caused by Chief Justice John Roberts’ contempt for the rule of law.

The argument, put forth in slightly different forms in recent days by Georgetown law professor Randy Barnett and Cato Institute scholar Ilya Shapiro, goes like this:

Roberts knew that the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, was unconstitutional. He even said so in his majority opinion in NFIB v. Sebelius, the case that upheld Obamacare, with Roberts casting the decisive vote. But, after declaring that Obamacare violated the Commerce Clause, Roberts invented a different constitutional argument under the taxing power to save the law, even though he knew that argument was wrong.

He did this because Roberts doesn’t believe judges should overturn laws enacted by political majorities, even when those laws violate the Constitution. Roberts in effect told conservative voters to go elect their own Constitution-trashing strongman, instead of asking courts to restrain tyrants such as Obama and Trump.

Paul Campos apparently drew the short straw over at Salon, and had to spend enough time picking through right-wing tinfoil to figure out what the hell they were saying. And while we owe him thanks, we also might beg pardon if the striking stupidity he describes seems unbelievable, a word here intended to mean, “pretty much what we expect”.

Here’s the tricky part:

The vast majority of constitutional law scholars don’t believe Obamacare violates the Constitution, but never mind that. The far loopier claim is that John Roberts, of all people, upheld Obamacare because he doesn’t believe in striking down democratically-enacted laws. This is the same Roberts who provided the deciding vote to gut the Voting Rights Act, to overturn decades-worth of campaign finance laws, and to strike down gun control legislation, to name just a few of the many cases in which Roberts has shown no hesitation to overturn the decisions of political majorities.

Er―ah … yeah. I’ll just be over in the corner, muttering to myself. Something about matters of fact and opinion.

That, and a potsherd wrapped in tinfoil wrapped in neurotic crisis.

____________________

Image note: U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts at New York University School of Law, 20 November 2015. (Photo: Rick Kopstein/ALM))

Campos, Paul. “This is the dumbest Donald Trump theory yet: It’s all about John Roberts”. Salon. 13 May 2016.

Morbid Hilarity (King v. Burwell Throwback Mix)

That King v. Burwell has even made it to the Supreme Court becomes even more of a mystery; the cynicism of the case is plainly apparent; even Justice Scalia is reduced to cheap politicking.

Perhaps, then, we ought not be surprised at Ian Millhiser’s report for ThinkProgress, which runs under the lovely title, “The Lawyer Telling The Supreme Court To Gut Obamacare Explained Why He Should Lose In 2012”, should surprise nobody:

On Wednesday, a lawsuit seeking to defund much of the Affordable Care Act appeared to hit a roadblock when Justice Anthony Kennedy expressed concerns that the plaintiffs’ reading of the law is unconstitutional. Though Michael Carvin, the lead lawyer challenging the law, attempted to extract himself from this roadblock, he quickly ran into an entirely different obstacle — his own past writings.

Attorney Michael Carvin, who argued King v. Burwell before the Supreme Court of the United States, 3 March 2015, on behalf of plaintiffs hoping to overturn the Affordable Care Act, in an undated photo.  (Image credit: AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)Carvin claims, in a case called King v. Burwell, that Obamacare should be read to deny tax credits that enable millions of Americans to afford health insurance in states that elected not to set up their own health exchange (under the Affordable Care Act, states have “flexibility” to decide whether to set up their own exchange or to allow the federal government to do so). During oral arguments on Wednesday, however, several justices raised concerns about the catastrophic damage Carvin’s reading of the law could inflict on those states’ insurance markets ....

.... Carvin tried to downplay the risk that consumers would simply stop buying plans in the law’s health exchanges if the tax credits were cut off, claiming that these consumers would still be attracted to exchange plans by the fact that the exchanges offer “one-stop shopping” for people looking to buy insurance. He also claimed that Congress wasn’t worried about the risk of death spirals if the tax credits get cut off. According to Carvin, “there’s not a scintilla of legislative history suggesting that without subsidies, there will be a death spiral.”

But Carvin himself sang a very different tune three years ago. Indeed, Wednesday was not the first time he’s stood in the well of the Supreme Courtroom and asked the justices to gut the Affordable Care Act. Carvin was also one of the lead attorneys in NFIB v. Sebelius, the first Supreme Court case attacking the law.

In a brief filed in NFIB, Carvin explained that “[w]ithout the subsidies driving demand within the exchanges, insurance companies would have absolutely no reason to offer their products through exchanges, where they are subject to far greater restrictions.” And, contrary to his more recent suggestion that Congress never envisioned any danger if the tax credits are cut off, Carvin wrote in 2012 that “the insurance exchanges cannot operate as intended by Congress absent those provisions.”

In a subsequent brief, Carvin elaborated that “the federal subsidies are the incentive to participate in the exchanges, and without those subsidies, there will be no mechanism to sustain the exchanges.” He also seemed to contradict his central claim that different states are treated differently depending on whether their exchange is operated by a state or the federal government. The Affordable Care Act, according to the Michael Carvin of 2012, “enables uniform and acceptable federal premium subsidies”.

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A Toxic Troika? A Note on ‘Optics’ and ‘Metrics’

Jeb Bush, left, speaking Wednesday in Greensboro, N.C., in support of Thom Tillis, a Republican candidate for the Senate. Credit Chuck Burton/Associated Press

When studying the Castor and Pollux of politics and punditry it might help to bear in mind that many of the buzzwords are intended to sound quasi-scientific in order to hide the fact that the terms describe artistic results. A metric, for instance, is simply an abstract measurement in unknown units compared to a presupposed psychomoral idyll that may or may not be available for examination and should never be trusted in the first place, anyway. The metrics of a situation are whatever the pundit wishes to describe in order to make his or her own narrative sound that much more compelling.

But then there are the optics of a situation, and this is a fairly easy explanation. Political optics are, quite literally, nothing more than appearances within a frame described by a pundit’s metrics.

In one of his first public appearances of the 2014 campaign, former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida had a vivid preview Wednesday of the challenges he would face with his party’s conservative base should he seek the Republican nomination for president in 2016.

Standing alongside Thom Tillis, the North Carolina House speaker and Republican Senate candidate, Mr. Bush outlined his views on two of the issues he cares most passionately about: immigration policy and education standards. But as Mr. Bush made the case for an immigration overhaul and the Common Core standards, Mr. Tillis gently put distance between himself and his guest of honor, who had flown here from Florida on a dreary day to offer his endorsement in a race that could decide which party controls the Senate.

(Martin)

Ah, optics!

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