A few years ago I attended the official opening of the Supreme Court in London. I was there not as a guest but working, concentrating on getting my boss in place before the Queen arrived, and trying to find somewhere to have a sneaky cig without getting caught on camera.
Appropriately situated between church and state (Westminster Abbey is to the left, HM Treasury to the right, with Parliament directly opposite) the Court resides in the beautiful former Middlesex Guildhall, all vaulted ceilings and gothic stone and gargoyles.
The great and good from politics and the judiciary were there to witness that landmark day in British constitutional history. We were seven months from a general election and I recall watching David Cameron and Nick Clegg huddle together, deep in conversation. Ceremonial robes swished heavily as judges from around the world entered the building to await the arrival of the Queen.
Among the judges present that day was the Honorable John G. Roberts, Jnr, Chief Justice of the United States. At the time, his name meant nothing to me. His was just a name, highlighted with a yellow marker, on a long list of people we had to be polite to if we bumped in to them.
How odd then that three years later, Chief Justice Roberts is again in my line of sight.
The recent US Supreme Court decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act, a statute commonly known as Obamacare that requires individuals to purchase health care insurance, has unleashed a shit storm of abuse and acrimony towards Chief Justice Roberts. Appointed in 2005 by President Bush, he was expected to follow party lines and strike the law down.
Thus his surprising decision to uphold Obamacare as constitutional resulted in the most extraordinary reaction, from accusations that he is a traitor to the conservative movement to suggestions that the medication he allegedly takes for epilepsy must have fucked with his brain and transformed him into, oh holy jesus no, a liberal.
Republicans hate the Act because, well, I am not actually sure why. It seems they like bits of it, as Ezra Klein explains here. Perhaps if they had thought of it first, they would not detest it so much. Oh, but hang on a second, the Republicans DID think of it first! I give you *drumroll* Romneycare! When he was Governor of Massachusetts, Romney introduced a very similar act that mandated almost every citizen in the state to obtain a minimum level of health care insurance.
So this is where I get very confused. Here you have the Republican presidential candidate campaigning against a law which in essence is the same as one he introduced himself. According to Romney, there is a huge difference: a state mandate is a penalty, whilst a federal mandate is a tax. Oh, I see. Well no, no I don’t. Apparently it all comes down to semantics: tax = bad, penalty = good.
But wait, what is this? Romney is now saying that the fee imposed on those who do not purchase insurance is indeed a tax because the Supreme Court says so. Good luck with that, Mittens. You tried to have your 4th of July cake and eat it but missed your mouth because your foot was still in it.
Meanwhile, poor Chief Justice Roberts has fled to Malta. Caravaggio did that too, to escape a bit of heat. It did not end happily.
Happy 4 July everyone!