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Morning Sun
  • EDITORIAL: Baseball and the Supreme Court

  • It seems that in recent years the idea that the Judicial Branch, and namely the Supreme Court, is independent of politics and strictly the arbiters of the law has become more and more challenged.

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  • It seems that in recent years the idea that the Judicial Branch, and namely the Supreme Court, is independent of politics and strictly the arbiters of the law has become more and more challenged.
    It’s hard, as a casual observer, not to see some of those indications. First, there’s the fact that for a time, all of the articles on cnn.com in regard to Thursday’s ruling on the Affordable Care Act (often called Obamacare) were categorized in the “Politics” section rather than the “Justice” section. Foxnews.com is no better, with the “Courts” section actually listed under the “Politics” banner.
    Second, there are several examples of Supreme Court rulings either being interpreted as political victories or directly involving politics. The rulings on Bush v. Gore and Citizens United left some with a sour taste in their mouth of politics getting into their law. Monday’s ruling on immigration reform in Arizona did much the same, with instant reaction from pundits not about how the ruling affected immigrants, but how the ruling affected both major candidates for the White House.
    In fact, much of the speculation after oral arguments and before Thursday’s ruling on the ACA was that it would fall along party lines. Many expected Justices Roberts, Alito, Scalia, Kennedy and Thomas, all Republican appointees, to take up the Republican position of being against the ACA. Many expected Justices Kagan, Sotomayor, Breyer and Ginsburg to line up in support of the ACA because all four of them were Democratic appointees.
    It’s interesting to note how the Supreme Court — and the Judicial Branch — should be viewed. In fact, we like this argument about the role of the Supreme Court:
    “Judges are like umpires. Umpires don’t make the rules; they apply them. The role of an umpire and a judge is critical. They make sure everybody plays by the rules. But it is a limited role. Nobody ever went to a ball game to see the umpire.”
    Those words were made by Chief Justice John Roberts during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2005. And Roberts’ comments about being umpires were especially poignant after Thursday’s ruling, in which he sided with the four Democratic-appointed justices to uphold the ACA and its individual mandate under the protection of the federal government’s right to tax.
    In his ruling, Roberts noted that it was not the Court’s job to decide on the ACA based on whether it was good or bad policy: “Members of this Court are vested with the authority to interpret the law; we possess neither the expertise nor the prerogative to make policy judgments. Those decisions are entrusted to our Nation’s elected leaders, who can be thrown out of office if the people disagree with them. It is not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices.”
    Page 2 of 2 - The American people will get what they choose, that much is very clear. In 2008, a majority of voters chose for Barack Obama to be president, effectively endorsing the policy choices he made. And for two elections before that, they chose George W. Bush and his policy choices. Come this fall, the people will choose which team they support.
    The Supreme Court is left to be the arbiters — the theoretically independent judiciary. But here’s the thing about Roberts’ umpire comparison: Neither team is ever a big fan of the umpires. Sometimes the calls favor one side. Sometimes they favor another. But neither team is ever particularly satisfied.
    And when you can’t change a decision, then the next best thing is to change the decider.
    And that is where politics does enter into the baseball game, at least a little bit: The people, through their political choices, can help shape the general look, shape and feel of the umpires themselves. But that doesn’t mean they’ll get every call.
    There is always talk in this country about the meaning of independence and freedom. Perhaps the best place to start on that front is with a judiciary free and independent of politics.
    — for the Morning Sun
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