At the Aspen Ideas Festival, we're asking the gathered range of financial and political jet-setters one big question a day. Today: How does the Supreme Court's decision to uphold Obamacare alter the legacy of Chief Justice John Roberts?
"It says he's a Burkean minimalist who didn't want to create an institutional crisis by asserting aggressive court power. Also, he took the opportunity to reshape the commerce clause so it was all about self-restraint and restraining others."
"What he did was both subtle and powerful. On the one hand, saying the mandate exceeded the bounds of the commerce clause probably provides over the long run some sustenance for conservatives that they don't see today. This is probably the most important restriction on the commerce clause since the decisions of the 1930s that led to the court-packing scheme. On the other hand, by finding a way to uphold it, I think he did steer the court away from what was an ominous precipice of five Republican-appointed justices out-voting four Democratic-appointed justices to overturn the biggest legislative achievement of a Democrat in the last 45 years. So, I think it was a very deft legal and political balancing, and I think it's going to force all of us to think of him in slightly different terms. There had been a sense coming into this after Citizens United that he was comfortable in a 5-4, highly partisan, highly polarized court but this seems to revert, along with the immigration decision this week, more toward what he promised at his confirmation hearing."
"It looks like he really was the umpire. In the future, it will elevate the way people think of him in the constitutional law arena. He's going to get attacked by the right but he did position himself when talking ruling on the commerce clause, which should provide some cover.
"I think John Roberts is a relatively young chief justice who sees himself in that role for a long time and as a result feels an even greater responsibility to the institution. He doesn't know what the composition of his court is going to be over time and he does not want to get a reputation as a politicized chief justice presiding over a politicized Supreme Court. I think he came up with a very wise approach to maintaining the integrity of the court which is important to all of us ... In terms of the merits of the issue, I'm not a supporter of the Affordable Care Act, but you can't look at the Supreme Court and ask them to make a political judgement based on your views of a piece of legislation ... I think he made a wise decision given the goal of preserving the integrity of the court over which he is going to preside for many many years."