Las Vegas Sun

October 23, 2016

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Sun Editorial:

Moving forward

Partisan divide in country over health care threatens progress

Thursday’s landmark ruling from the Supreme Court upholding the Obama administration’s signature health care policy will unfortunately not quell the political debate that has raged for years. The 5-4 decision will likely only further inflame opponents’ political rhetoric this election year, further dividing the nation.

Although we hope the nation would be able to move forward, we have seen no sign of that happening. Republicans in Congress, along with their party’s presumptive presidential nominee, have vowed to repeal the law. The call for repeal makes a good campaign applause line but does little to improve the nation’s health care system, which needs help.

Republicans in Congress can continue to complain about the federal “overreach,” but the reality is that the court, in a reasoned opinion written by conservative Chief Justice John Roberts, found the bulk of the law, including the controversial individual mandate, constitutional and within Congress’ authority.

Not that Roberts’ opinion will change any minds. The court’s minority proved that in its dissenting opinion. It was fierce, at times hyperbolic, and not above taking a few petty swipes at the majority opinion.

The court has been bitterly split along ideological lines in recent years, much like the public. Unfortunately, some members of the court have strayed away from the law and into partisan territory. For example, in the court’s decision Monday on Arizona’s immigration law, Justice Antonin Scalia complained about President Barack Obama’s decision not to deport children brought here illegally. Scalia had no business weighing in on that from the bench. That wasn’t an issue in front of the court — Obama’s decision was announced months after the case was submitted.

Judges are supposed to consider the facts and the law for the case at hand, but the health care case also brought out the partisan side of some of the justices. Hearing arguments earlier this year, some of the conservative justices ridiculed the law, even suggesting that “Obamacare,” the derisive name used by opponents, could allow lawmakers to force people to eat broccoli. Such complaints are right out of Congress, and the political spin in the court has been an ominous turn. The dissent seemed more perturbed about the wisdom of the policy than the legality of it.

Roberts, however, wrote that because the law was constitutional, it was “not our role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness.”

“Members of this court are vested with the authority to interpret the law; we possess neither the expertise nor the prerogative to make policy judgments,” Roberts wrote. “Those decisions are entrusted to our nation’s elected leaders, who can be thrown out of office if the people disagree with them. It’s not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices.”

But that didn’t stop the dissenting justices from complaining about the policy and challenging the court’s majority and logic, saying it had carried “verbal wizardy too far, deep into the forbidden land of the sophists.” In the court, those are fighting words, and it’s a shame to see the court dissolve into such vitriol.

Of course beyond the court, the entire debate has been tainted by a sense of meanness. Some of the law’s opponents have all but turned their back on the plight of millions of Americans who couldn’t either afford or find insurance. Even those with insurance have found that it may not amount to much — an injury or illness can quickly send a family into bankruptcy. But instead of attacking the issues, including affordability and access to care, opponents have merely launched political attacks.

The court’s ruling is important. The Affordable Care Act is far from perfect, but it’s a step toward improving health coverage for Americans. Congress should be working to improve it rather than kill it.

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