With health care ruling, will the Court support national rule?

As one who hates to predict elections and court cases, I’m not willing to make a prediction on how the Supreme Court will rule on the Affordable Care Act/Obamacare.

But Mondays’ decisions have added a wrinkle in two respects:

1. Both the Arizona immigration case and the reaffirmation of Citizens United in the Montana campaign finance case involved the reach of national power. 

In both cases, the Supreme Court ruled for national power.

Arizona does not have the right to make its own rules on immigration. While the “show me your papers” provision still allowable, the Court made it clear that Arizona does not have complete autonomy and they expect judicial oversight of its implementation.

In the Montana case, the majority dismissed Montana’s claim to have particular circumstances that would allow the state to regulate corporate money.

While Obamacare is not about campaign finance (which the Court construes as linked to the First Amendment) nor immigration (involving a key power of nation-states, the power to determine who may be within borders), it does involve national power (specifically, the power to regulate commerce).

Given the support for national power in those cases heard Monday, perhaps the Court will support it as well in the health care cases, if not completely, at least partially.

2. While the oral arguments surrounding the Affordable Care Act made its chances of survival look questionable, it’s now clear that these are not necessarily predictive.

The oral arguments for the Arizona immigration case were also quite rough for the United States, whose lawyers wanted the law overturned. Yet the attorneys for the U.S. won.

So, still, I will not predict the decisions. But one thing I will say about the politics of this:

Should the ACA be overturned, it will not hurt Obama. Rather, Republicans will have the greatest difficulty.

With so many having predicted that the ACA – or part of it – will not survive, that’s what a lot of citizens expect. If it happens, it just meets those expectations.

And if it is overturned, the question will turn to what party and what candidate will do the most to improve the health care system in the U.S., a system that is not liked.  A recent poll found that 75% of Americans want action on health care if the ACA is overturned. And Republicans are trusted less on health care and have made it clear that they are in no rush to do — anything.

Again, I don’t know if it will be overturned in full or part or not at all. But even the worst policy outcome from Obama’s perspective is not bad politics. It is President Obama who tried to improve the system for millions who don’t get care and put themselves and their families in financial hardship. For that, he will get credit.


Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.