A few times in a lifetime, events occur that galvanize the electorate for good or ill. Last week the U.S. Supreme Court gave everyone something to cheer or cry about -- and we’re not speaking only of the decision upholding the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act.
This session was full of rulings that would normally draw headlines of their own but for the shadow cast by the health care act.
The Citizens United decision that allows for corporate giving in political campaigns was revisited in the American Tradition Partnership, Inc. v. Bullock case. By a 5-4 margin, the prior decision was reaffirmed, angering many who were overjoyed with Chief Justice John Roberts’ slide to the more liberal side of the bench in the health care case.
The decision in Arizona v. the United States struck down three of the four points that state had put in place to seek its own answer to illegal immigration. While the court unanimously upheld the right of law enforcement to check a person’s immigration status, the court put everyone on notice that it would revisit that aspect if the application of those checks became suspect.
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Miller v. Alabama would have also drawn more attention if not for health care’s shadow. The court ruled in a 5-4 that “The Eighth Amendment prohibits a sentencing scheme that requires life in prison without the possibility of parole for juvenile homicide offenders.” Same with the 6-3 decision striking down the “Stolen Valor Act” (United States v. Alvarez ) which made it a crime to say you received a “decoration or medal” that you didn’t. Xavier Alvarez of Pomona, Calif., claimed he was a retired Marine and had received the Medal of Honor. He had never served a day. Even lies are protected free speech.
We may agree or disagree with the high court’s decisions, but the nine justices of the U.S. Supreme Court are the final arbiters. We are, at our foundation, a nation of laws. That’s why Vice President Al Gore when deemed the loser in the 2000 presidential race by the high court, stood before the cameras and said, “Over the library of one of our great law schools is inscribed the motto: ‘not under man but under God and law.’ It is the ruling principle of American freedom, the source of our democratic liberties ... Now the U.S. Supreme Court has spoken. Let there be no doubt: while I strongly disagree with the court’s decision, I accept it. I accept the finality of this outcome ... And tonight, for the sake of our unity as a people and the strength of our democracy, I offer my concession.”
We doubt, over the next five months, that those opposed to the health care decision will be as gracious.
-- Charles E. Richardson, for the Editorial Board