AHA Roundtable: Historians’ Perspectives on the Supreme Court Health Care Ruling

In light of the historic importance of yesterday’s Supreme Court decision, and with the belief that history can help inform debate on any contemporary topic, we offer three commentaries from professors of history on yesterday’s ruling on the Affordable Care Act.

Alan Brinkley, Columbia University

Having prepared comments on the demise of the health care bill, I am happily surprised that the Court has sustained it. Over the months of waiting, I had thought that the only conservative justice who might support the bill would be Kennedy. Roberts seemed to be a long shot. In many ways, Chief Justice John Roberts’s vote—so surprising at the time—is much like Justice Owen Roberts’s votes on U.S. v. Butler and West Coast Hotel v. Parrish in 1935 and 1936, which supported the commerce clause in much the same way John Roberts did this week. Perhaps what made the chief justice support the bill might have been that striking it down could not only end the health care law but many other efforts that could be struck down in many other laws—with the possibility of returning to something like Lochner. [Read more…]

David T. Beito, University of Alabama

This is a bleak day for defenders of personal liberty. The Supreme Court has abrogated its responsibility as a co-equal branch. If the federal government can force us to buy insurance, under the catch-all pretext of calling it a “tax,” it can force us to do almost anything. The same post-New Deal court which often upholds choice on abortion, pornography, and contraceptives continues to let politicians trample on the personal choice of Americans over their own pocketbooks. In we cannot freely spend the fruits of our labor on such a deeply intimate decision as health care, any other liberties are ultimately meaningless. [Read more…]

Beatrix Hoffman, Northern Illinois University

It is a historic day for health reform. The Supreme Court’s decision to uphold most of the 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA) means that the United States will come closer to insuring all its citizens than ever before in history. Millions who had previously been excluded because of their health conditions or because they could not afford coverage will be able to join the system.

But even if the law is implemented to its fullest extent, the United States will still not have universal coverage. [Read more…]

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