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The Genius of John Roberts

June 29, 2012 3 minute Read by Michael McMahan

Leading up to yesterday’s decision on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, everyone assumed there were 3 likely outcomes: 1) strike the whole law; 2) strike the individual mandate; or 3) uphold the entire law based solely on partisan lines, with Justice Anthony Kennedy as the swing vote. In full disclosure, I am a huge fan of John Roberts, and have admired him even before he was nominated by President George W. Bush in 2005. Justice Roberts is one of those rare legal minds who is the smartest person in every room he sits in. His intelligence, combined with a reserved demeanor befitting of a federal judge, brings a calming and confident presence to the Supreme Court chambers. This is very necessary in an era where the other two branches of our federal government are constantly accusing the judicial branch of political gamesmanship. (Pot, meet Kettle.) Instead of the three presumed outcomes, the leader of the Court joined with the left-leaning justices and upheld the law in its entirety. But that is not the story. The real story is how Roberts’s carefully crafted 110-page opinion accomplished a myriad of important goals. First, he specifically limited the scope of the Commerce Clause. This is a very important. It should help rein in future regulations proposed by Congress. Second, he basically held that both the executive and legislative branches were playing political word games by not calling the mandate what it is — a new tax. By upholding the law on the basic premise that Congress can freely tax, he pulled the curtain back on the political mind-games and ruled that the PPACA was merely a tax raise for all Americans. He followed stare decisis, as he has always said he would, and allowed the Congress to tax citizens as its sees fit. Third, he put the onus on the American public. Bluntly stated, he said it’s not up to the Court to decide if this tax is fair or not, it is up to the public to vote in November to show how they feel. He teed up the health care issue for a public referendum. Lastly, amidst the recent turmoil and public admonishments at State of the Union Addresses, Roberts successfully made this a bi-partisan decision. He crossed the “aisle” and joined with Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor, Kagan, and Breyer to render the opinion. In the end, “Chief Justice” Roberts lived up to the two-word title he is given. He showed leadership as chief of the Supreme Court in reaching the decision not swayed by political influence, and he followed case precedent by continuing to limit the commerce and spending clauses of Congress, as all our judicial representatives should.


Author

Michael McMahan
Michael McMahan

Michael McMahan currently serves as Vice President of Corporate Planning and Development, overseeing all fundraising activities and events as well as integration of long-term revenue planning for Bush Institute and public programming work.

Previously, he worked as Vice President, Strategy and Planning. In this capacity he coordinated strategic planning and strategic partnerships across the Bush Center.  He also worked as Director, Institute Policy and Planning and as Program Manager for the Bush Institute’s economic growth initiative.

McMahan is a licensed member of the Texas Bar, and prior to joining the Bush Center he was an energy law litigator. He served in the George W. Bush Administration at the U.S. Department of Energy in the Office of Policy and International Affairs. He is a graduate of the University of Texas (B.A., Economics) and Southern Methodist University’s Dedman School of Law (J.D.).

McMahan serves on the board of the Dallas Urban Debate Alliance and is a founding board member of the Dallas chapter of America’s Future Foundation.

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