Last Thursday, I returned home from a week of strategic meetings in our Denver office, in a state somewhere between that feeling kids get when they know they have presents beneath the Christmas tree but have not yet gotten the parental go-ahead to tear into them, and the nervousness that typically arises before the first day of school, or in the moments right before a big race starts. Yep, I’m talking about the Supreme Court decision on whether or not the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is constitutional.
The verdict was set to drop at 10:00 am (or 8:00 am Denver time), and my flight home was set to board at 8:07. I feverishly monitored the SCOTUS blog on my phone for the latest, knowing full well that my news team was already fired up and ready to tackle the news right away.
#1: People don’t care.
As I waited for my plane to board, hunched over my phone like it was a tank of oxygen and I was under water, I periodically looked up to see if anybody else was as fixated on the impending news as I was. The fate of PPACA would be determined in the next few minutes! Wasn’t everybody on tenterhooks about it? They weren’t.
Even the Fox News on the terminal TV wasn’t getting a lot of attention. Folks mainly wanted to drink their coffee and focus on their Sudoku puzzle or the trashy novel they had for the flight. (More than a few moms in the crowd were reading Fifty Shades of Grey rather than anything news-related. I know it’s summer, but come on, people!)
#2: People are misinformed (Part I).
I spent a good portion of that night online talking and debating with various friends, colleagues, acquaintances and friends of friends over what had happened and what it all really meant. One of the things I decided early on was that the world’s got enough political blather in it and folks don’t really care if I supported PPACA being upheld or overturned. What I did dedicate myself to, however, was addressing clear misconceptions people had about the law and what it meant to do. And on this front, there was (and still is) more than enough work to go around.
#3: The fight isn’t over.
It took mere minutes for the ruling to come down before I got my first press release from a grass roots group that vowed to launch yet another repeal effort of PPACA. Similarly, later that day, I saw news items from politicians who suggested that the states simply ignore the ruling and ignore PPACA altogether. That struck me as an interesting position to take; when you live in a country founded on revolution and breaking the law (the Founding Fathers were criminals and traitors until they won the war, after all), you can’t take a suggestion like wholesale defiance of the government lightly. Nor can you just decry it as nonsense or sedition. It is, whether we like it or not, an unspoken part of our system, that notion that there is a range in which we are willing, as a people, to talk things through and vote on them. And then there is a range where we are willing to just do what we want anyway and the government largely looks the other way, unwilling to press the issue because to do so would create more problems than it fixes. (Music piracy and copyright law is a good example.) And then there is a range where we are willing to defy the government in ways that the government feels are impossible to ignore and call for action.
#4: People are misinformed (Part II)
#5: The Supreme Court should be immune to politics, but isn’t.
And here, we come to the heart of it. When people asked me before the ruling what I thought the ruling might be, I told them what I had been hearing: that the Court would rule 6-3 in favor of upholding the law. This came from suggestions my news team got from sources in Washington, and obviously, trying to predict a Supreme Court ruling is a bit like reading tea leaves. The ruling was, of course, 5-4, with Chief Justice Roberts making his now-famous swing vote. Originally, he had planned to vote to strike down the individual mandate as unconstitutional, but later reversed that, despite intense pressure from Justice Kennedy to stay the course. He did not, and in so doing, upheld PPACA and earned the ire of conservatives across the land.
The reaction from all of this was pretty interesting. In conservative media, there have already been numerous articles and columns that ask the question, “Why can’t conservatives pick a good justice?” The idea being that liberal justices can be counted on to vote along the lines of their political camp, which conservative justices are a little less reliable. Liberals seem to be looking at this from the standpoint that Roberts swung his vote to uphold the integrity of the court itself, something conservatives have questioned. Why is it the integrity of the court when it’s upholding a liberal issue and not a conservative one? Somewhere in the mix are legal experts who explain Robert’s change of heart as being that of a judicial “priest,” one who puts the position of the Court over the wants or needs of any one political camp.