Add this to the good news/bad news mix from the Supreme Court's healthcare decision: Because of the good news (Chief Justice Roberts voted to uphold the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act), we get the bad news that his standing among the nation's Democrats has significantly increased. This collective amnesia about who John Roberts is and what he has done is disturbing, especially since the direction of the Court is one of the most important issues upon which Democrats should be voting in November.
A new Gallup Poll shows wild fluctuations in Democrats and Republicans' assessment of Chief Justice John Roberts since their last poll in 2005, a change Gallup attributes to his role in upholding the Affordable Care Act. Roberts' approval rating among Republicans has plummeted 40 percentage points from 2005, falling from 67% to 27%. In contrast, his favorability among Democrats has risen from 35% to 54%. That the healthcare decision is a catalyst of this change is supported by a PEW Research Center poll last week showing that between April and July, approval of the Supreme Court dropped 18 points among Republicans and rose 12% among Democrats.
Yes, John Roberts upheld the ACA, but only as a tax. At the same time, he agreed with his four far right compatriots that it fell outside the authority granted Congress by the Commerce Clause, leaving many observers concerned that he has set traps designed to let the Court later strike down congressional legislation that should in no way be considered constitutionally suspect. He also joined the majority that restricted Congress's constitutional authority under the Spending Clause to define the contours of state programs financed with federal funds.
Just as importantly, Roberts's upholding the ACA does not erase the past seven years, during which he has repeatedly been part of thin conservative majority decisions bending the law beyond recognition in order to achieve a right wing political result. John Roberts cast the deciding vote in a number of disastrous decisions, including those that:
- severely limited the ability of victims of pay discrimination to obtain compensation for the discrimination (Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber)
- made it harder for victims of systemic employment discrimination by large employers to file class action lawsuits (Wal-Mart Stores v. Dukes)
- let states funnel taxpayer money to religious schools (Arizona Christian Tuition v. Winn)
- empowered large corporations to cheat their customers in violation of state consumer protection laws (AT&T v. Conception)
- struck down a campaign public financing program designed to break candidates' dependence on large donors and bundlers (Arizona Free Enterprise Club v. Bennett)
- crafted a new constitutional rule on an issue not even discussed by the parties in order to de-fund public sector unions (Knox v. SEIU)
- upheld a federal ban on a vaguely defined abortion procedure, despite the absence of an exception in the law to protect a woman's health (Gonzales v. Carhart)
- struck down the voluntary integration plans of two public school districts seeking to promote racial diversity in their schools (Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School Dist. No. 1)
Oh, and then there's that little 5-4 Citizens United opinion that has upended our nation's electoral system and put our government up to sale to the highest bidder.
With a rap sheet like that – and this is hardly a complete a list – no one should be under the illusion that John Roberts is anything but a right-wing ideologue using the Supreme Court to cement his favorite right-wing policies into law.
Next term, Roberts is expected to lead the judicial front of the Republican Party's war against affirmative action and the Voting Rights Act. Whether he succeeds may depend on whether it is Mitt Romney or Barack Obama who fills the next vacancy on the Supreme Court.