Chief Justice John Roberts has known he wanted to gut the crown jewel of the civil rights movement — the Voting Rights Act — since at least the 1980s, when he was a young lawyer in the Reagan Administration.
And when he essentially ended the preclearance requirements in 2013 that ensured millions had the right to vote, he said that Congress could simply pass a new formula to put the requirement back into effect. He knew this would never happen.
The formula he stuck down had been renewed in 2006 by a Republican president and Congress eager to put the shame of Hurricane Katrina behind them.
By 2013, the party had given up on all shame and decided to pass a tsunami of restrictions on voting that had not been seen since the 1960s. But Roberts pretended what was impossible was possible in order to justify his greatest act of judicial activism since his court spent 2010 throwing out all limits and accountability for outside spending in campaigns.
In 2015, Roberts will have a chance to gut Affordable Care Act based on an impressively cynical misreading of the law that will take away subsidies for 7 million middle class taxpayers in 36 states that didn’t set up their own health care exchanges.
“He’s got that bullshit line in Shelby County v. Holder [the Voting Rights Act decision]: Congress can fix this. Obviously Roberts knows Congress isn’t going to fix it,” Supreme Court historian and law professor Lucas A. Powe told Talking Points Memo‘s Sahil Kapur. “In this case he can easily say again, oh, Congress is gonna fix it. He knows it won’t.”
This is enough of a loophole for Roberts’ to put aside any concerns for the “reputation” of his court. So expect him to do the most politically craven thing he can get away with.
Some blue-leaning states — like Michigan — may set up their own exchanges that will save the states’ credits. But the vast majority — and nearly all the states with the highest uninsured rates including Texas, Florida, and Georgia — won’t.
Some argue that since Roberts saved the law’s mandate that he’ll skip this chance to attack the law again — but that ignores his devotion to electing Republicans who believe the powerful must be protected from the needs of the powerless.
The Chief Justice will be effectively denying millions of people in Republican states of coverage that could save their lives. But he will have a larger goal — freeing them of the burden of health insurance and electing a Republican who will preserve his majority.
Since Roberts saved the law the first time, Republicans have been waging a war to delegitimize that law that was given ground support by the disastrous launch of HealthCare.gov. As the law began to meet its goals — quite impressively — they’ve sought to attack the process of how the law passed.
Suddenly the guys who argue that tax cuts for the rich (and some wars in the Middle East) pay for themselves were concerned about the integrity of one of the most transparent legislative processes in American history. This time they were abetted by the architect of the Romneycare model implemented in the Affordable Care Act saying dumb things in an insulting way.
Republicans have also won a massive landslide in which they virulently opposed Obamacare while seeming to embrace the good things it has done. This denied them a clear mandate against the law, to most fair observers. However, it was undeniable that no Republican lost his job because he opposed Medicaid expansion. And in one state, Arkansas, Republicans may claw back the expansion that has been put in place, even though it will cost private insurers dearly.
The ACA won’t be repealed until at least 2017 but it now seems at least possible that Republicans could run and win a campaign based on promising to cancel 27 million Americans’ insurance. Roberts could make that a lot easier by gutting the most direct benefit of the law for the Middle Class.
Sensing this possibility, or hoping to give 2016 Democratic candidates a chance to veer away from Obamacare, Senator Chuck Shumer recently said that Democrats shouldn’t have pursued reform. Rather they should have focused on more stimulus and tax policy that helped the middle class. This ignores so much reality it’s disturbing.
Before the ACA, the Stimulus was the most hated law in the country because Republicans had spent a half a billion dollars demonizing the law that prevented a great depression and created America’s clean energy industry from almost nothing.
The ACA is a middle class economic issue and not just because it provides billions in tax credits, ends discrimination against those with pre-existing conditions and takes on the leading cause of bankruptcies for working families — health care costs. It also helps to try to get rid of the $1 trillion hole in our economy created by the inefficiencies in our health system compared to other countries that cover all their citizens.
Republicans would have demonized anything Democrats did, regardless if they worked or not. Buying into anti-ACA rhetoric is dangerous right now — especially since no coordinated effort exists to defend the law.
Republicans are fighting to take insurance from tens of millions and there is no comparable effort on the left to even get the millions being denied Medicaid expansion they coverage they deserve.
But the GOP has a problem. The law is working. John Roberts can fix that.
The conservative movement has spent billions creating a movement that’s prepared for a moment like this in which an activist court will serve the Republican agenda in hopes of sustaining a conservative majority. And unless Democrats begin to understand the unapologetic vindictiveness of their opposition and the incredible and possibly irreplaceable achievements of the Affordable Care Act, millions more will suffer as the law crumbles.