That’s not exactly how the Washington Post’s Dan Balz put it in his Sunday column. But it is a fair summation of his take on Chief Justice John Robert’s decision to cast the tie-breaking vote to uphold Obamacare’s individual mandate.
The column argues that Roberts’s decision sent a message “about the importance of protecting the … reputation of public institutions.” The Supreme Court, more than any other branch, “should be insulated from partisan politics.”
The problem is that the evidence Balz presents makes precisely the opposite case. It suggests the court was very effectively politicized, but by the Left, not the Right. Yet Balz seems unaware of this.
It is useful to remember that, in the run-up to the health-care, one strong subtext of discussion and analysis was what a decision striking down President Obama’s health-care law would do to the court itself. Would the court, under those circumstances, be vulnerable to the charge that it had become as politicized as the other branches of government?
Left unsaid in that assertion was that these accusations were coming mainly from liberal editorialists like the ones at … the Washington Post. Balz’s colleague Dana Milbank had a good example in the same edition.
Balz does not say so say so explicitly but he is apparently of the opinion that had Roberts voted to strike down the individual mandate that would have proved that the Right had politicized the court. Those Federalist Society meetings can be rough, I guess.
What Balz doesn’t seem to consider is that politicization is a process that goes both ways.
As he noted elsewhere in his own column:
Fearing defeat, Democrats were preparing to make the court a target in the fall election. They were connecting the dots, from the Bush v. Gore ruling that handed the presidency to George W. Bush, to the Citizens United that helped unleash a torrent of big-money contributions in this year’s election cycle (a huge share of the money going to Republican super PACs), and, finally, to health care and a decision that would have been seen as toppling the president’s signature first-term accomplishment.
And this wasn’t just random Democrats either. Obama himself rebuked Roberts for the Citizens United ruling during the his 2010 State of the Union address “as the justices sat uncomfortably before him in the House chamber.”
A question for Mr. Balz: How is all of that not politicization? Aren’t the Democrats openly doing exactly what Republicans and conservatives have been accused of doing? And doesn’t Roberts’s ruling suggest that they have been more effective at it?
It’s not demonstrating independence if you are showing yourself to be susceptible to public pressure. How does that enhance the reputation of the court?