Pomp, Pederasty, and Peculation -- But Also Social Justice

07/02/2012 02:11 pm ET | Updated Sep 01, 2012
  • Dr. Charles G. Cogan Associate, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard's Kennedy School

In the lead-up to the Supreme Court decision on President Obama's health care law, backers of the law raged at the likelihood that one man, Justice Anthony Kennedy, the presumed swing voter who would tip the scales against the law, would prevent some 30 million uninsured people from obtaining health care coverage. The United States would remain the only Western democracy without a health care provision for all its citizens. That one man could hold in his hands the fate of 30 million others seemed to severely damage the credibility of the Supreme Court.

But then, surprise! Justice Kennedy did vote with the conservative wing of the Court, but it was the Chief Justice, John Roberts, who joined the liberal faction in a 5-4 vote that upheld the Obama health care law.

What happened? There are a couple of reasons behind this, one up close and credible, and the other more subliminal and arguably far-out. First and foremost, Chief Justice Roberts likely wanted to save the credibility of the Supreme Court as a unique American institution -- a credibility already deeply tarnished by the Court's awarding of the Presidency to George W. Bush over Al Gore in 2000, and the Citizens United case that opened the floodgates of campaign contributions and was seen as blatantly favoring the Republican Party. In the Affordable Care case, for the Court to be seen as overturning the will of the people, as expressed in a majority vote by its elected representatives would add to the growing charge that the justices have simply become politicized in this highly politicized era in the United States.

The second factor, rather more subliminal and decidedly speculative, is this: Chief Justice Roberts is a Catholic, and attended a Catholic grade and a Catholic secondary school. Despite all the downsides of an institution riven by pomp, pederasty and peculation -- you might call them the three "P's" -- there is the fact of a social justice component in the Catholic tradition which runs somewhat counter to the mainstream strain of rugged individualism in the American ethos. Those who partake of this tradition might, it seems to me, recoil at the idea of the American population denying health care to an underprivileged minority of... 30 million people.

It appears that the only way that Obamacare, as its opponents call it, can be repealed is by a victory in November of Mitt Romney who -- by a patent irony -- passed a similar bill in Massachusetts when he was governor there.