Thursday, June 28, 2012

Hey liberals: Get ready for the next Supreme Court battle

Ben and I have a fresh-fresh-fresh Scripps Howard column this week, reflecting on what lessons can be learned from the Supreme Court's ruling upholding the Affordable Care Act. Taking the victory at face value—though maybe I shouldn't—here's my take:

Liberals, enjoy the victory -- because now everything gets harder. 
And I mean everything. The Supreme Court's ruling doesn't end the debate over the Affordable Care Act, it simply throws it back to Congress. Obamacare-hating Republicans already run the House of Representatives. Further Republican victories in November could lead to an outright repeal of the law. It may be years -- if ever -- before the act joins Medicare and Social Security in relative safety from GOP assaults. 
Beyond that, liberals should understand -- as conservatives almost certainly do -- that the fight over Supreme Court nominees will become even more intense going forward. Conservatives don't believe that their argument failed; they believe that Chief Justice John Roberts failed. And they'll act accordingly. 
Remember Harriet Miers? George W. Bush nominated her to the court in 2005 -- but withdrew the nomination in the face of opposition from angry conservatives who felt insufficiently assured she'd take their side on the big issues. Conservatives have demanded those assurances ever since David Souter joined the court's liberal bloc after being appointed by a Republican president. 
They will double down on those efforts. And given the trend of recent years, no one should be surprised if -- when -- Republicans then filibuster the next Supreme Court appointment made by a Democratic president. The customary deference given a president in such matters will evaporate. 
Democrats should be planning and preparing for those clashes now. 
They should also be prepared to modify and improve the law over time. 
The truth is that Obamacare's individual mandate is a blunt, inelegant instrument to expand health coverage in the United States -- flawed, but also what was politically possible at the time it passed. Over time, it will need amending and refinement. That will take a lot of work. 
The defense of Obamacare isn't over. Thanks to John Roberts, it has just begun.

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