(Photo: Dan Delzell)
As the dust begins to settle on the Supreme Court's recent decision to uphold ObamaCare, no one is questioning the motives of eight out of the nine justices. They all seemed to vote in a way that is consistent with their ideology. Not one of them is suspected to have voted with an eye on "how it would play" in the media or with those who complain that partisanship has ruled the court in recent years. Only the Chief Justice has had his motives called into question.
All of us hope to make our major decisions in life based upon our ideology and our core values. That becomes challenging, however, for anyone who is tempted to value the reputation of his institution above his own personal beliefs. Enter Penn State and the email evidence showing who knew what, and when, concerning Jerry Sandusky's predatory behavior. Enter the Roman Catholic Church or any religious organization where leaders have sought to protect the institutional image more than vulnerable children. Enter the Supreme Court, if Justice Roberts was truly more concerned about the court's image than his own conservative principles when he voted to uphold ObamaCare. Say it isn't so.
John Roberts is known to pay close attention to media coverage. He seems more sensitive than the other justices to how the Court is perceived by the public. Did those concerns lead him to change his mind on ObamaCare? In the end, did image play a bigger role in his personal decision than his conservative convictions?
A question for John Roberts to ask himself is this: "Would I have voted the same way even if I was not the Chief Justice?" If he would have voted differently as an Associate Justice, then he may actually be much better suited for that role than for the role of Chief Justice. You don't change your image as a partisan by trying not to be one. You just stick with your principles come hell or high water. Who cares how people label you or your precious institution? It's always about the people, and what is best for them. Anything else just leads to personal compromise and questionable motives.
Were the other conservative justices flat wrong in their evaluation of ObamaCare? Was Justice Roberts the only conservative smart enough to get it right? The collective wisdom and weight of the conservative dissent from four justices is far heavier than the spin and weight of one conservative justice. The evidence strongly suggests that Roberts felt pressure to shore up the court's reputation. That makes it more about image than ideology.
True conservatives always value ideology above institutional image. Conservatives believe that doctrine, common sense, personal integrity, and responsibility are more essential than polishing up an organization's luster.
Is Justice Roberts a true conservative? Did he vote according to his values and conscience, or according to his desire to help the Supreme Court be viewed in a certain light? You never improve your image by worrying about what others are saying....or by ignoring the collective wisdom of those who share your beliefs and convictions.
Your image is a reflection of your decisions, and your consistency in behavior and doctrine. Without that consistency, one is left to wonder whether your core values are your own....or values that evolve along the way based on which direction the wind is blowing. The storms that hit the nation's capital the day after the Supreme Court's decision were timely. They were symbolic of the intense wind that was blowing in the direction of Justice Roberts prior to his perceived reversal on this issue.
When you make a decision as big as this one, there is no question that you then get to own it. ObamaCare was first hung around the neck of the senator from our state who cast the deciding vote on the legislation....namely, Ben Nelson. Now this albatross has also been hung around the neck of John Roberts because he voted to uphold it. Whereas Ben Nelson has decided not to run for re-election, John Roberts gets a free pass since his role is not an elected office. He will likely have another 20-25 years to continue sculpting his image and the image of the court.
One thing we now know about John Roberts....we can't be sure how he will vote in future cases any more than we can predict the weather. We can only hope that he won't continually find himself having his motives questioned in a way that makes him seem as unpredictable as the winds that blow across Washington, D.C.