We Deserve This

Watching the debate unfold surrounding the Supreme Court’s hearing on the Affordable Care Act has been both disappointing and laughable.  Pundits from both sides have cried foul as it is clear (Surprise! Surprise!) that essentially eight of the nine justices had already made up their minds on the issue before it had been brought to their courtroom.  It’s laughable to hear these arguments, particularly since we brought this on ourselves.

Whenever it is time to appoint a new justice to the highest bench in the land everyone knows what they want.  We want our guy/gal.  We want the person that will make decisions in the interest of our party’s values and nothing else.  We don’t want someone who might just be seen as a moderate and who’s judgement might swing either way (presumably in the way of an objective, Constitutionally-sound decision) on critical cases.  And when we get what we want, we get the horrible arrangement we have now.  One party appoints a clearly partisan judge to replace a less partisan one.  The other party reacts by appointing someone even more partisan on their side.  And so on and so on until we don’t even need to hear the decisions of eight of the justices.  We only pay attention to one.  At the moment, that judge is Justice Kennedy.

It now rests on one man’s shoulders to decide the fate of the health care reform.  One man voting for 300 million.  A tough job no doubt but we know that is what the Supreme Court is for whether their decisions are good or bad.  Not that nine justices voting for that many people sounds much better but we got what we wanted in our partisan judges and now pundits have been taking turns firing shots at the opposing justices as if the ones they support aren’t equally guilty of seemingly biased decision-making.  If a president were to take the high road and actually appoint an apparently unbiased justice, these pundits would scold their own guy sitting in the Oval Office.  Therefore, the anger being shown now is just humorous and I actually question how genuine it is.  They are aware of how this came about and I can only assume most of these partisans just say the provocative thing because it’s expected.

This case has also been disappointing to watch by throwing the reality in our faces that we only have one swing vote on the court any time a controversial issue with partisan undertones comes before them.  One swing vote.  Just in case you aren’t counting, we should have nine of those on the Supreme Court.  People have argued Elena Kagan should recuse herself from this case because a previous meeting might have influenced her and helped make her decision before the case was brought to the court.  I have an idea.  Maybe we should have every justice not named Kennedy recuse themselves so this gets done quicker.  Think of how much time could be saved by just having him ask the questions he wants answers to on cases like this and only hearing his decision.  Three days of questions could have been dwindled down to a half day with the rest of the time devoted to dragging out other issues for no reason.  We could speed up democracy!  I’m kidding, of course, but you get the point.

All that said, is it even fair for pundits to criticize the judges they don’t agree with at this point when they were a big part of creating this situation?  Judge for yourself.  But another question looms stemming from all this that might be more important than the eventual decision handed down by this court on the individual mandate.  And that question is this: What happens when Kennedy retires?  Will we even get one “swing vote” anymore?  Will we forever be doomed to 5-4 decisions in favor of only one party?  Will each party takes turns ramming cases through the Supreme Court to switch decisions on controversial issues every time the majority on the court changes?  To avoid this awful scenario, we can only hope for something we were promised by the last candidate voted into the Oval Office: change.

Will the Supreme Court Decision Speed the U.S. to a Universal System?

As the Supreme Court decides which parts of the Affordable Care Act will be upheld or struck down this week, I wonder how this will effect the inevitable path the Unites States is taking toward a universal health care system.  The fact remains skyrocketing cost is the biggest problem for our system and the only proven way in human history to bring those costs down and cover everyone is through a system with heavy government intervention.  Everyone paying attention to this issue has seen the charts comparing the U.S. to other industrialized nations and has seen the inflated amount of money spent in America on health care with lesser results.  We are going to get a universal system at some point regardless of the opposition to it.  But how will this Supreme Court decision effect the timing of the change?

The biggest issue in the case will be the, at first conservative-championed and now conservative-loathed, individual mandate that states everyone must posses health insurance when the law goes into full effect two years from now.  The reason for the individual mandate is to bring down premiums for everyone by getting healthy citizens who think they do not need insurance to buy into a health insurance plan.  This premium money is then used to pay for the higher cost folks whose health is low or deteriorating.  Without the mandate, premiums for people wanting health insurance will be even higher and our problem gets worse.

If the Supreme Court upholds the mandate, it will likely prolong the march to the changes we really need.  Once the law goes into effect the infusion of money into the coffers of the insurance companies will slow the continuing rise in premium costs and keep the system from reaching catastrophic debt levels for a period of time.  Guessing when this happens is impossible since we have no idea where the economy and factors such as the unemployment rate will be in the years to come but we know it’s coming.

If the mandate is struck down, disaster hits much sooner.  Insurance companies will be mandated to carry the sick (the ones that can actually afford the care that is) and not benefit from carrying the healthy.  Typical premiums for everyone will increase to levels only the highest of incomes will be able to pay and eventually the system collapses.  Either way, major changes will come.

What will the health care system look like at that point?  Germany?  Japan?  The United Kingdom?  Who really knows?  There are lots of choices in how the government can help control the costs of the system contrary to most believing it’s either the U.S. way or the Canadian way.  The most likely path is a “Medicare for all”-type system since that is partially in place as we speak and would be the easiest transition.  Whatever happens then, one thing is clear now.  The system we are currently under is unsustainable in the long term and ACA doesn’t do enough to address costs, regardless of what the Supreme Court decides.  Change is inevitable.

The Supreme Court Has Gone Diva on us

As Supreme Court justices review health-care law, stakes will be hard to ignore – The Washington Post.

As most of us already know, the Supreme Court this week will take up the issue of the highly publicized health care reform passed two years ago.  And for the few people who haven’t heard that, rest assured they will not be able to find a big enough rock to shield them from the coming onslaught of coverage it will receive.  That brings up an interesting question about this process.  Is it really a good thing that we will be far more informed than ever before on this case as it is hatched out in the Court?

The Washington Post gives a good primer to this case and their article included the following sentence I was very surprised to see: “And while cameras are still forbidden, the court has changed its rules to release audiotape and transcripts of the arguments each day.”  This means we will all be privy to the stances taken by the justices during the case and, in all likelihood, get some extra posturing since they know the recorders will be on to catch every word.  Some people might argue they won’t be susceptible to the extra attention because they aren’t political, don’t stand for office, and have no reason to play themselves up to the public.  But how can we say that is true?

It’s no secret the Supreme Court can and has been swayed by public opinion when deciding controversial issues.  A look at their decisions regarding civil rights in the 1800s where slavery and then segregation laws were upheld show even the figuratively “blind” court can see polling data.  And now they have added the temptation of making a spectacle during the hearing in order to hear themselves played back on the news that night.  They might not be elected politicians but they are so surrounded by that environment it will be hard for them not to abuse the opportunity.  Remember Eric Cantor printing off the health care bill and sitting it in front of him during the televised bipartisan meeting to try to hammer out some issues in the proposal?  (And I assume he had that printed out on the thickest paper he could find for added effect.  Take that tree-hugging hippies!)  I kind of wonder if Thomas or Scalia will attempt to read the entire law into the record just to satisfy the opponents’ insatiable hunger for pointing out its length.

Whether the rule changes and inevitable news sound bytes brought about by it will have any effect on the ultimate decision will be impossible to measure.  And it is also not the first time a high profile case has been covered closely in the 24-hour news cycle and internet era.  But this added exposure really does nothing good for the outcome and only furthers the potential for the Supreme Court to become even more political than it already has shown.  Some may argue (myself included) the government needs more transparency in certain areas in the interest of the public and the Court is no different.

But the Supreme Court is different because it isn’t a place for political ideology and posturing.  We have access to it through reporters who can still tell us what is going on everyday the Court is in session and we can always read the opinions rendered by the justices.  Increasing the direct link from the justices’ mouths to the public through more media exposure only increases the likelihood of politics getting in the way of good decision making.  The Court does let ideology get in the way at times and it is understandable certain cases will arise where the decision is not always black and white.  But we are supposed to expect certain things from the highest court in the land.  They are supposed to be “blind”.  They are supposed to properly review the law and the precedent set before it if any exist.  They are supposed to uphold the Constitution in the interest of the public.  They are supposed to make decisions where no one can tell which party the president represented who appointed them to their seat. They are supposed to dish out justice in a non-partisan way where very few would question their ultimate decisions.

They are supposed to do those things…but sometimes they don’t.  And it could be getting worse.