Personally, I am delighted that Justice Roberts voted to uphold the Affordable Care Act
But I am troubled that the fate of U.S. healthcare turned on one man’s opinion. This is not how things are supposed to work in a democracy.
Healthcare represents 16 percent of our economy. It touches all of our lives. If we don’t like the laws our elected representatives pass, we can vote them out of office. The Supreme Court, on the other hand, doesn’t have to worry whether its decisions reflect the will of the people. The Justices are appointed for life. This is why they are not charged with setting public policy.
How then, did the Court wind up with the power to affirm or overturn the ACA?
The media shapes our expectations
As I suggested when oral arguments began back in March, a “media narrative” drove the case to the Court – a fiction that caught on, in the press, on television, and in the blogosphere, where it began to take on a reality of its own. A handful of “state attorneys general and governors” saw “a political opportunity” and floated the idea that the law might be unconstitutional. The media picked up the story, repeated the heated rhetoric, and “fanned the flames … Before long, what constitutional experts thought was a non-story became a Supreme Court case.”
These media narratives are based on what “that those in power and in the media have concluded is likely to happen,” observes Lyle Denniston, known by some as the Dean of Supreme Court reporters.
Writing on Scotusblog.com, he observes: “One ‘narrative’ about the health care law began building up in Washington, and perhaps beyond, right after the Supreme Court held its hearings in late March. The mandate, it was said, was going to be struck down, the government’s lawyer had blown it, and the President was going to be deeply wounded politically over the loss of his treasured domestic initiative.” Some media outlets were so persuaded by their own myth-making that initially, they reported that the Court had ruled against reform!
Denniston explains that once the story goes viral, the conventional wisdom is then repeated, over and over, until “often, it seems, such ‘narratives’ become self-fulfilling.”
He then points a “currently prevailing ‘narrative’ that most of the country is stubbornly committed to the Tea Party’s wish to limit the power of the federal government.” The facts contradict the fiction: Tea Party Candidates have been “losing steam” in recent elections.
In April, a WashingtonPost/ABC poll revealed that support for the Tea Party among young adults had plunged to 31 percent – down from 52 percent in the fall 2011. Half of those polled said that the more they heard about the Tea Party, the less they liked it.
Tea Partiers claims that the Court’s decision invigorated its base, but offer little evidence. As I reported on HealthBeat last week, polling suggested that the ruling lifted support for reform among Independents, while having little effect on Republicans.