The Court has spoken - and we must listen

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Politically, it goes without saying that the decision is a clear win for President Obama. The president can now campaign on the legitimacy of his signature legislative victory. It leaves him the opening to talk about the future in America, all the while painting Romney and the Republicans intent on repealing Obamacare as those who want to litigate the past. It also plays well into the Obama campaign’s new slogan: “Forward.” This stands in stark contrast to the Romney campaign’s intent on “Restoring America’s promise.” One is future-oriented, the other looks to the past. While this election will certainly be closer than President Clinton’s reelection campaign in 1996, the themes and campaign approaches are similar. Bob Dole, the aging World War II veteran, talked time and again about restoring the values of an earlier America, while President Clinton sought to build a “bridge to the 21st century.” Americans are forward thinking – and this decision might help the Obama team refocus their message within those larger cultural symbols.
 
Finally, policy wise: this is perhaps the most important thing to come out of this ruling but one which will no doubt get the least amount of coverage. While the legal and political implications will be debated ad nauseam in the weeks and months to come, it is undeniable that beginning in just a year and a half more Americans will have health insurance now that the Court has spoken. By official nonpartisan estimates, more than 30 million more Americans will be covered as a result of the Affordable Care Act. It remains to be seen if those figures are accurate – or if the law helps to bend the cost curve as advertised. If the Court had thrown out parts or even all of the law, then that would have been one of those “known unknowns.” It would have been hard to predict what might have happened had the decision gone the other way. Who knows what would have happened if the Court had not desegregated schools in 1954, or declared abortion legal in 1973.
 
Through all of this, one thing is clear; Alexander Hamilton was certainly wrong when he argued in Federalist 78 that the Courts have little power relative to the Executive (the “sword”) and the Legislature (“the purse”). The power of judgment is an awesome power – as have just witnessed once again.



Malone is an associate professor and chair of the Department of Political Science at Pace University

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