Next Monday, March 26 the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on the Obama health care reform law. (I’ll link to it but it will be five hours long.) Later this Spring the Court will rule on the measure and also on Texas’s redistricting law and Arizona’s immigration law. When the Supremes take on highly controversial issues people tend to ask, “Whose side are they on?” This will be the subject on Thursday at our first meeting at Eclipse Chocolat, 2121 El Cajon Blvd.
By “whose side” is SCOTUS on, we can mean one of two things, I suppose. First, we can be referring to the Court’s historic role in the American political system. Is the Court a conservative, anti-democratic institution? Is it by nature on the side of the status quo most of the time, allied with whoever is in control of the economic and social power structures? Or, does SCOTUS sometimes lead us in a progressive direction, whether the public wants it to do so or not? Second, we could be talking about today’s Court, with its five highly conservative justices (Scalia, Thomas, Roberts, Alito, Kennedy) and four moderates or liberals (Breyer, Ginsberg, Sotomayor, and Kagan).
We’re a fairly knowledgeable crowd these days on Constitutional ABCs and basic U.S. history. So, I’ll skip the Intro to SCOTUS 101 speech. Instead, I’ll outline:
- The range of opinion on how conservative SCOTUS traditionally has been, including how often it deliberately runs ahead of public opinion; and
- How conservative – by any measure – the current Court is.
- The major issues the Court has agreed to consider in the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
Then, we can debate the issue, with the usual mix of Constitutional theory, history, and polemics. Hey, it’s what we do.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –
- Whose side has SCOTUS been on historically? Why?
- How “political” is the Court? How much do they consider elite and public opinion?
- What typically has happened when the Court has acted at odds with elite or public wishes?
- How conservative is the current Court? Compared to what? Are the four more moderate justices fighting this trend or going along with it?
- What are the issues on the ACA the Court has agreed to consider? How might they rule, which they must do by the end of the term in June?
- Have liberals relied too much on SCOTUS rulings (rather than legislation through swaying public opinion) to get their way? Are conservatives beginning to make the same mistake?
- Unusual view: SCOTUS isn’t conservative, per se. Historically, it usually cleaves pretty closely to public opinion, rather than try to summon change by itself.
- But, the Supreme Court has been trending conservative for 30 years.
- The Roberts Court is very, make that very, very conservative (2nd article is a long one) .It is not “balanced” between Left and Right. For example, four of the five most conservative justices since 1937 are on the Court now (a chart).
- The Health Care Law:
- [Update: For you hard-core Constitutional law gluttons, here is a ldetailed, thorough explanation of the legal arguments for/against the ACA. The arguments to be assessed by SCOTUS are very different from the bumper sticker versions of the arguments being caricatured in the news media.]
- The basic issues under dispute. The ABCs.
- The individual mandate is unconstitutional.
- No, it’s clearly constitutional.
- How SCOTUS might rule (via Jim Z.).
NOTE: Our first week at Eclipse Chocolat is kind of a tryout! Let’s start off in our new home by impressing them: No shouting or spats, buy stuff, and be friendly to the staff. I’ll be there at 6:30 to show them how we want the setup.