Friday, February 4, 2011

Supreme Court on Deck Once Again

I am struck by the fact that the U. S. Supreme Court will once again come into great prominence as the Obama Health Care Reform legislation comes before it. The question will likely be whether the individual mandate provision is constitutional. The concern will be whether or not the federal government can require a person to purchase a product from a private company.

The constitutionality of this provision will be in the hands of swing vote Anthony Kennedy. This is because the vote will likely be along partisan lines and will be a 5-4 vote. The power of that swing vote to impact our lives is quite significant. This piece of legislation is probably the third most significant piece of social legislation in the past 100 years, behind The Social Security Act of 1935 and The Medicare Act of 1965.

I looked back over other significant decisions of our lifetime. Below are a few key decisions which have come down in our lifetime. The impact on our lives and culture are undeniable.

United States vs. Richard Nixon 1974. This was a 9-0 decision. It resulted from Richard Nixon refusing to turn over the Oval Office tapes to special prosecutors on the grounds of "executive privilege." Nixon ended up having to turn over the tapes, which contained a 18.5 minute gap, and he, of course, resigned from office in August of that at year.

Roe Vs. Wade 1972. The case was decided 7-2. In this case, Jane Poe challenged anti- abortions laws. The courts decided that the right to privacy under the due process clause of the 14th amendment extends to a women's decision to have an abortion.

Brown vs. the Board of Education Topeka Kansas 1954. This was a 9-0 case. Oliver Brown of Topeka Kansas, a parent representing thirteen parents who were representing 20 children, was the plaintiff. They were simply calling on the school system to reverse their policy of racial discrimination. The court ruled that the long held "separate but equal" policy held by the Plessey vs. Ferguson ruling of 1896, was unconstitutional. The court held that it was a violation of the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment. It was the landmark civil rights decision of the 20th century.

Bush vs. Gore 2000. This was a 5-4 case. The court held that the Florida Supreme Court method for recounting votes was a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th amendment. The court allowed Florida Secretary of State's certification of George W. Bush as the winner of the 2000 election to stand, effectively resolving the contested 2000 Presidential election in favor of Bush.

Miranda vs Arizona 1966. This was a 5-4 decision. This important decision held that rights of the accused must be upheld and that the accused must be informed of their rights and must be informed of their right to an attorney and of their right to remain silent.

Engel ve. Vitale 1962. This was a 6-1 case. The court held in this landmark case that it was unconstitutional for a state official to compose an official state prayer and to require that it be recited. This case leaned heavily on the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment in advocating the separation of church and state.

These were all very significant cases in the life of 20th century America. They impacted how we lived and how our culture and our attitudes, values, opinions, and beliefs developed and were shaped in the 20th century. My intent here is not to complain about the work of the court. It is a significant part of a critical branch of our system. I am concerned when cases go down on a partisan divide and the swing vote carries such impact.

The Health Care Reform decision around the individual mandate will be one to watch closely. This very significant piece of social legislation will impact course of 21st century American domestic and social history. Once again it in the hands of the swing vote..... Anthony Kennedy.

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