By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Previously published 6/30/12 in The Madera Tribune
You know you’re a Catholic when you’re tempted to genuflect when you cross the center aisle of a courtroom.
Several months ago I experienced the parallel world known as jury selection. The process tends to bore participants I think, and yet aspects of it can be fascinating. For several days, locals were gathered out of diverse routines of work to sit about, learn about the U.S. legal system, and present themselves for inspection.
Add video cameras and you’d have captured a surreal situation suitable for reality television — so long as you threw away most of the footage.
A hint of that could be seen in the Supreme Court’s decision Thursday morning upholding the constitutionality of two key parts from President Barack Obama’s health care law. That ruling, led by Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., resembled ancient King Solomon’s judgment when faced with two women who claimed to be mothers of the same baby: if you can’t share, slice it in two.
Solomon’s decision forced the real mother to abandon her claims to the baby rather than see her beloved child die. The impostor only gloated. Ultimately the child lived — returned to to its true mother. Similarly, the compromise hammered out by Roberts saved the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act but exposed it, both as a tax and to more challenges in the future.
In short, this baby belongs to who truly wants it more.
The case could have been resolved much differently. If a partisan Supreme Court had called the health law unconstitutional, a showdown between the Supreme Court and the other two branches of government, the lawmakers and the presidency, may have ultimately weakened the court’s authority in the future. Such a political power play would have hurt our nation’s attempt to divide and balance power between the three branches of government.
The more power is centralized and unrestricted, the more tempting and possible it is to abuse.
Some may insist the United States has already somewhat moved down that road by placing more and more power in the presidency in the past century and a half. But there may still be wisdom in Roberts’ approach, which actually limited the power of congress and the presidency.
In the court’s majority opinion, Roberts wrote: “People, for reasons of their own, often fail to do things that would be good for them or good for society. Those failures… can readily have a substantial effect on interstate commerce. Under the Government’s logic, that authorizes Congress to use its commerce power to compel citizens to act as the Government would have them act. That is not the country the Framers of our Constitution envisioned… The Framers gave Congress the power to regulate commerce, not compel it.”
Expects to see other governmental actions, not just the Affordable Care Act, challenged in future lawsuits. The fun is just beginning.
So what of the controversial exemptionless mandate that requires employers to cover sterilization, contraception, and devices and drugs such as Plan B and Ulipristal (“Ella”) that can be used to induce abortion? That issue wasn’t the focus of the Supreme Court’s decision Thursday, and the door remains open for a First Amendment challenge.
“Even if the taxing power enables Congress to impose a tax on not obtaining health insurance, any tax must still comply with other requirements in the Constitution,” wrote Roberts in the majority opinion.
The 23 separate lawsuits against the Affordable Care Act by 56 different plaintiffs, an unprecedented number against a single law, will continue to move forward in the courts, and it is only a matter of time before the issue returns to the Supreme Court again.
Meanwhile, those concerned about the threat to religion and conscience have time to pray and work.
U.S. Catholics across the nation have been doing so since June 21, and will continue to July 4. The “Fortnight for Freedom” involves prayer, study, religious teaching, and public actions on religious liberty.
The campaign began the day before the memorial day of Thomas More (1477-1535), a close friend of King Henry VIII, a judge, and lord chancellor of England. When he steadfastly refused to place the desires of his king above his conscience and his duties to God, he was imprisoned in the Tower of London and later beheaded for treason.
Shortly before his death, he comforted his daughter: “Nothing can come but that that God wills. And I make me very sure that whatsoever that be, seem it never so bad in sight, it shall indeed be the best.”