This story originally appeared at Truthdig. Robert Scheer is the author of The Great American Stickup: How Reagan Republicans and Clinton Democrats Enriched Wall Street While Mugging Main Street (Nation Books).
The Supreme Court is so full of it. The entire institution, as well as its sanctimonious judges themselves, reeks of a time-honored hypocrisy steeped in the arrogance that justice is served by unaccountable elitism.
My problem is not with the Republicans who dominate the court questioning the obviously flawed individual mandate for the purchasing of private-sector health insurance but rather with their zeal to limit federal power only when it threatens to help the most vulnerable. The laughter noted in the court transcription that greeted the prospect of millions of the uninsured suddenly being deprived of already extended protection under the now threatened law was unconscionable. The Republican justices seem determined to strike down not only the mandate but also the entire package of accompanying healthcare rights because of the likelihood that, without an individual mandate, tax revenue will be needed to extend insurance coverage to those who cannot afford it.
The conservative justices, in their eagerness to reject all of this much needed reform, offer the deeply cynical justification that a new Congress will easily come up with a better plan—despite decades of congressional failure to address what is arguably the nation’s most pressing issue. In their passion to embarrass this president, the self-proclaimed constitutional purists on the court went so far as to equate a mandate to obtain healthcare coverage with an unconstitutional deprivation of freedom; to make the connection they cited the spirit of a document that once condoned slavery.
These purists have no trouble finding in that same sacred text a license for the federal government to order the young to wage undeclared wars abroad, to gut due process and First Amendment protections, and embrace torture, rendition and assassination, even of US citizens.
Now they hide behind the commerce clause of the Constitution to argue that the federal government cannot regulate healthcare coverage because that violates the sacrosanct principle of states’ rights. If the right-wingers on the high court consistently had a narrow interpretation of federal power over the economy, there would be logic to the position expressed by the Republican justices during the last three days of questioning. Of course, the court’s apparent majority on this has shown no such consistency and has intervened aggressively, as did the justices’ ideological predecessors, to deny the states the power to protect consumers, workers and homeowners against the greed of large corporations.
We would not be in the midst of the most severe economic meltdown since the Great Depression had the courts not interpreted the commerce clause as protecting powerful national corporations from accountability to state governments. Just look at the difficulty that a coalition of state attorneys general has faced in attempting to hold the largest banks responsible for their avarice in the housing disaster.