Within minutes of the Supreme Court's decision this morning upholding the Affordable Care Act (ACA), voices on both ends of the political spectrum were responding to what seemed to be a surprise decision to many, the joining of Chief Justice John Roberts' opinion to the 5-4 majority.
But whatever one's assessment of the act itself, something of considerable moment happened this morning worthy of notice--a judge was found acting as a judge should act, independent of outside influences and relying only on their own considered interpretation of circumstances and the law.
That Chief Justice Roberts is attuned to the notion of judicial temperament in general and to the particular weight of his own position in specific as leader of the nation's high court is well established.
It is a quality we seek in jurists but not in politicians, the ability to be fair, even-handed, and wise interpreters of existing law and precedent. Still, enough have encountered those in professions where being wise and measured should be the vanguard to fall short of that, and each Supreme Court appointment brings with it attendant concerns from political corners.
From his time at the helm of Harvard Law Review to his advancement to the high court, he was lauded by classmates and peers for his "unquestioned integrity and fair-mindedness." He had been known to navigate potentially divisive waters with a steady oar. When former President George W. Bush originally nominated Roberts to fill an associate justice vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court in July 2005, he noted that his nominee had "devoted his entire professional life to the cause of justice and is widely admired for his intellect, his sound judgment and personal decency." With the death of Chief Justice Rehnquist in September of that year, Roberts was swiftly propelled into the position of leadership.
He reflected on his unique role, and judicial temperament, in an interview with Jeffrey Rosen for The Atlantic
in early 2007, noting that many of his predecessors had failed in collegiality. It was his stated desire, from the outset, to bring about more unanimity of the court, and to sublimate his own personal and political leanings for the greater good. "Politics are closely divided," he told Rosen. "There ought to be some sense of stability, if the government is not going to polarize completely. It's a high priority to keep any kind of partisan divide out of the judiciary as well."
Roberts' own navigation of these particular waters in the healthcare decision will be the source of much debate, collegial and contentious, going forward, and his choice to find a path to affirm the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act through the government's ability to tax rather than regulate commerce will be noted.
Some will cry foul, and some fair. But faith in a leader of the high court to interpret law without personal bias should be restored, and as a nation, that is something we should reasonably expect.
Full text of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) can be found here:
On the Web: