USA’s højesteretspræsident John Roberts fik skrevet sig selv ind i historiebøgerne i dag, da han som forfatter til flertallets afgørelse i ACA-sagen, sendte dele af amerikansk forfatningsret ind i en ny tid. Dommen, der i vanlig stil er langt mere fyldig (192 sider) end en dansk ditto ville havde været, kan selvfølgelig hentes via domstolens hjemmeside.

Dommen har allerede fået meget omtale, også i danske medier, og den vil selvsagt blive mere indgående behandlet over det næste stykke tid.Sagt lidt meget sort-hvidt, er den individuelle forsikringspligt ikke forfatningsstridig, fordi pligten slet ikke er en pligt, men en skat. Hvilket i øvrigt var dét, som advokaterne for føderalregeringen mente ikke var tilfældet!

En umiddelbart rammende beskrivelse kommer fra Erick Ericksen på Red State-bloggen:

It seems very, very clear to me in reviewing John Roberts’ decision that he is playing a much longer game than us and can afford to with a life tenure.”

Denne opfattelse – der også er at genfinde i Ezra Kleins blogindlæg, hvor dommen bliver kaldt for en 4-1-4-afgørelse – går ud på, at Roberts lod forsikringspligten så på grund af en juridisk teknikalitet, samtidig med, at han, sammen med den ”konservative” del af retten, fik afgrænset rækkevidden af reglen om samhandelsregulering i føderalforfatningen. Det er derfor, at Barnett (se nedenfor) kan sige, at dommen er et nederlag for dem, der er imod ACA, men en sejr for dem, der kæmper for at bevare en statsmagt, begrænset af forfatningen. Dommen er – i øvrigt – en gigantisk sejr for Barnett.

Indtil en af mine medbloggere, eller jeg selv, får skrevet noget mere dybdegående om dommen, er her nogle væsentlige kommentarer (IMHO) fra den amerikansk-juridiske blogosfære (mine redigeringer):

Jonathan H. Adler:

The primary dissent is a joint dissent by all four dissenting justices. This is unusual. Their dissent rejects both the individual mandate and the Medicaid expansion. Because these two provisions are central to the act, the dissenters would invalidate the law in its entirety.

Chief Justice Roberts rejects the Commerce Clause and Necessary & Proper Clause rationales for the mandate even though doing so would not seem to be necessary for the result. If the mandate may be upheld on taxing power grounds, why reach these clauses? One possible answer is that the Chief Justice embraces a constitutional avoidance rationale for construing the mandate as a tax (similar to what he did with the Voting Rights Act in NAMUDNO). Showing the constitutional problems with the mandate is thus necessary to justify the construction the Chief offers of the Act.

This opinion reaffirms that the Chief Justice is, in many respects, a conservative minimalist. This opinion, combined with others we’ve seen this term, is revealing how the Chief Justice and Justice Alito differ. The Chief is more minimalist in his approach and more deferential to federal power (save on the First Amendment, where Justice Alito seems more deferential).

Holding the mandate exceeds the scope of the Commerce and Necessary and Proper Clauses poses no threat to any other existing federal program or law that was not already in jeopardy. That is, this holding does not narrow these powers. Rather it reaffirms their limits…

Adam Winkler konkluderer:

The Roberts Court has only just begun.

Gerard N. Magliocca mærker historiens (og den politiske proces’) vingesus:

Chief Justice Marshall famously found a way out of tough spot in 1803 by reading the Judiciary Act of 1789 in a peculiar way to deny William Marbury a remedy.  Following the law would have brought the Court into a terrible (and destructive) clash with President Jefferson. He lectured the President about not giving Marbury his commission, but did nothing to help…

Chief Justice Roberts did something similar today. Following the law and reading the Affordable Care Act in the most natural way (failing to buy health insurance leads to a penalty, not a tax) would have forced him to strike down the individual mandate.  So he didn’t do that.  Why? Because a 5-4 straight-line party decision invalidating part or all of the Act would have have brought the Court into a terrible clash with President Obama.  The Chief Justice gave a pretty speech about federalism, but ultimately he did nothing about it.  (Maybe I’m underestimating the importance of the Medicaid issue–I’m not sure.)

Orin Kerr:

The Chief Justice’s opinion finds an interesting middle ground in the battle of absolutes over the Affordable Care Act. Under the Chief Justice’s opinion, real economic mandates are beyond the power of Congress. Congress can’t force action where there was none. Congress can’t say you must act or else go to jail, for example. The individual mandate is constitutional because despite the name because it’s not really a mandate…  it’s really just a small tax. And the enforcement mechanism is pretty light. So you really don’t have to get health insurance: You just have to pay the smallish penalty if you decide you don’t want it. So Congress lacks the power to say that you go to jail if you don’t buy health insurance. But Congress does have the power to encourage you to get health insurance by imposing a tax if you don’t, as long as the tax isn’t so coercive that it’s really more than just a tax… In other words, the taxing power is a lesser form of regulation that has a lot more in the way of limits: It gives the federal government some power, but not the plenary power granted if the law falls within the Commerce Clause…

Samme forfatter bemærker andetsteds i øvrigt, at Randy Barnett’s sondring mellem aktivitet og inaktivitet indgår i Roberts argumentation, smh. med “det her er en gigantisk sejr for Barnett” i indledningen.

Og apropos Barnett:

Who would have thought that we could win while losing?…

Today, the Roberts Court reaffirmed the “first principle” announced by Chief Justice Rehnquist some 17 years ago in Lopez: the federal government is one of limited and enumerated powers. It accepted all of our arguments about why the individual insurance mandate exceeded the commerce power:  “The individual mandate cannot be upheld as an exercise of Congress’s power under the Commerce Clause,” wrote Chief Justice Roberts. “That Clause authorizes Congress to regulate interstate commerce, not to order individuals to engage in it.”  Then the Court went farther to invalidate the withholding of existing Medicaid funding as coercive, thereby finding an enforceable limit on the Spending Power…

The New Federalism was attacked precisely because it offered a different vision of the so-called “New Deal Settlement”: although the Court acquiesced to the constitutionality of New Deal-style regulations, when Congress goes beyond this already expansive reading of its powers, the Court will meet any further expansion with skepticism. It will continue to insist onsome judicially- enforceable limit on federal power.  Congress cannot be the sole judge of the scope of its own powers.  Today a majority of the Roberts Court reaffirmed this vision.

Academics are sure to react to today’s decision by declaring the New Federalism dead, but they would be wrong to do so.  The Founder’s scheme of limited and enumerated powers has survived to fight another day.

David Bernstein spekulerer:

Scalia’s dissent, at least on first quick perusal, reads like it was originally written as a majority opinion… In particular, he consistently refers to Justice Ginsburg’s opinion as “The Dissent”.

Back in May, there were rumors floating around relevant legal circles that a key vote was taking place, and that Roberts was feeling tremendous pressure from unidentified circles to vote to uphold the mandate. Did Roberts originally vote to invalidate the mandate on commerce clause grounds, and to invalidate the Medicaid expansion, and then decide later to accept the tax argument and essentially rewrite the Medicaid expansion to preserve it? If so, was he responding to the heat from President Obama and others, preemptively threatening to delegitimize the Court if it invalidated the ACA? The dissent, along with the surprising way that Roberts chose to uphold both the mandate and the Medicaid expansion, will inevitably feed the rumor mill.

I Salon kan man læse om, hvor påfaldende flertalsagtig, det konservative mindretals dissens er. Det er temmelig interessant synspunkt, især når man tænker på, at afgørelsen har været klar et stykke tid og at mindretallet har haft både tid og lejlighed til at ændre mere substantielt i dissensen end (muligvis) sket.  Hvis der er nogen sandhed over konspirationen, har mindretallet i hvert fald gemt sit budskab i teksten, så fremtiden kan se med.

Bernstein har mere her.

Brad DeLond – i samme retning:

Nine times Scalia refers to Ginsburg’s opinion on the mandate not as a concurrence–agreeing with the result, but for different reasons–but as a “dissent”. An opinion that reaches the same result but by a different road is not a dissent. And there was not “a” dissent. There were three: Thomas’s, Ginsburg’s, and Scalia’s. When there are three dissents–two other dissents–to refer to one of them as “the” dissent is, at the least sloppy.

Is this deliberate–that Scalia wants us to know that his opinion was originally written to be the opinion of the Court? Or is this simply sloppy draftsmanship–chronic laziness at revision?

And what made Roberts peel off?

Inquiring minds want to know…