‘It feels like Justice Roberts cheated on me,” said a friend, half in jest, half in honest disappointment. A lot of similar sentiments were voiced in the wake of his penning the majority opinion that, as many have put it, “upheld Obamacare.”
But what the Court did isn’t entirely that, of course. The whole of the president’s health-care legislation wasn’t actually the question before the Court.
Reading the majority opinion in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, my mind went back to an April morning in 2008 on the West Lawn of the White House. Welcoming Pope Benedict XVI, President George W. Bush said:
In a world where some treat life as something to be debased and discarded, we need your message that all human life is sacred and . . . that “each of us is willed, each of us is loved, and each of us is necessary.” In a world where some no longer believe that we can distinguish between simple right and wrong, we need your message to reject this “dictatorship of relativism” and embrace a culture of justice and truth.
Admiring the Founders’ respect for religious freedom, the pope encouraged
its preservation: “The preservation of freedom calls for the cultivation of virtue, self-discipline, sacrifice for the common good and a sense of responsibility towards the less fortunate. It also demands the courage to engage in civic life and to bring one’s deepest beliefs and values to reasoned public debate.” He presented freedom as a challenge for every generation, and quoted his predecessor on the always-looming danger of totalitarianism: “History shows, time and again, that ‘in a world without truth, freedom loses its foundation,’ and a democracy without values can lose its very soul.”
“Awesome speech,” President Bush said to the pontiff. So in sync were their worldviews, in ways that used to be conventional wisdom: Life and liberty are of Divine origin, and government exists for their protection. The speeches of the two leaders were perfectly complementary.
Thoughts about the man who appointed the chief justice and about the chief justice himself — I emceed a “Women for Roberts” press conference, live on C-SPAN, back in the day — led to thoughts about the democratic process itself.
“Elections matter,” a friend and colleague said to me near Pennsylvania Avenue that day. For many Americans, only recently has that realization begun to register in their hearts and minds. Leading up to Independence Day, the Fortnight for Freedom, which the U.S. Catholic bishops have called for to highlight the importance of religious liberty, has taken on an ecumenical character, as people of many faiths join in opposition to the idea that the Church’s convictions relating to abortion, sterilization, and contraception are not fit to be respected in the public square — or in the health-insurance plans provided by Catholic institutions or employers. Critics insist that U.S. Catholics and other Americans of faith would impose their views on the whole country. But it is the government that is doing the imposing, using the power of the state to coerce everyone to go along with its radical ideology, conscience be damned — or pay a fine on your faith for your supposed backwardness.