The architects of the Rehnquist federalism revolution....Go to the link for some detail on what Greenhouse likes to call the "federalism revolution."
.... were Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and his fellow Arizonan, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor (Chief Justice Rehnquist was actually from Milwaukee, but he decided during his Army service in North Africa that he liked the air of the desert rather than the cold and damp of the Great Lakes.) They were Westerners to whom the notion of states’ rights came naturally.Here, Greenhouse notes 2 dissenting opinions —Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency, where Roberts would have saved the EPA from the state's lawsuit to force it to deal with global warming, and Gonzales v. Oregon, where Roberts would have let the United States attorney general keep doctors from prescribing the suicide drugs that were authorized by Oregon law.
But Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. is not William Rehnquist, and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. is not Sandra Day O’Connor. John Roberts has made his career inside the Beltway ever since coming to Washington to clerk for Rehnquist. As for Sam Alito, I don’t believe that apart from a brief part-time gig as an adjunct law professor, this former federal prosecutor, Justice Department lawyer and federal judge has cashed a paycheck in his adult life that wasn’t issued by the federal government. Nothing in their backgrounds or in their jurisprudence so far indicates that they are about to sign up with either the Sagebrush Rebellion or the Tea Party.
Chief Justice Roberts appears particularly in tune with the exercise of national power.
Finally, Greenhouse aptly observes that even some of the Justices who favor the states in federalism decisions lose their nerve when they are confronted with "issues that people really care about." Chief Justice Rehnquist balked when he got to the Family and Medical Leave Act (in Nevada Department of Human Resources v. Hibbs) — and that case was only about whether an employee of a state could get back pay when the act was violated, not the more momentous question of whether the act was constitutional or could bind the state.
So now we have a monumental new law. Can we really imagine the Supreme Court thwarting it?
John Roberts is an acutely image-conscious chief justice, as watchful and protective of the Supreme Court’s image as he is of his own. I find it almost impossible to believe that this careful student of history would place his court in the same position as the court that has been rewarded with history’s negative judgment for thwarting the early New Deal.But the Supreme Court got cold feet about standing up to the will of the democratic branches of government right after Franklin Roosevelt won a big landslide election in 1936. The health care reform law followed an election that wasn't about health care reform at all. The main thing people were thinking about when they voted for Obama in 2008 was the dramatic economic crisis. There were also the 2 wars and amorphous hopes for a post-racial America.
The 2008 election cannot be read as a mandate for health care reform, especially not for the aspect of it that is challenged in the current lawsuits: the individual mandate to buy health insurance. That could not possibly have been foremost in the voters' minds. First, during the campaign, Obama spoke emphatically against it. And second, even after a year of talk about the reform, people don't really understand what the individual mandate is going to be.
There isn't a big majority of Americans who are counting on being compelled to buy insurance. There isn't even a majority — even a thin majority — of Americans who favor the health care reform as a whole, and this is even before they need to confront something that is probably going to shock and distress a lot of people who haven't studied the text of the law and have simply trusted that the government is about to give them the good things they need.
Greenhouse tries to patch this hole in her argument:
Midweek polls showed the public already rallying around the new health care law. That trend is likely to accelerate as people realize that the law’s benefits belie the scare stories — just around that time that the state challenges are likely to reach the Supreme Court. It won’t require a summa cum laude in history from Harvard to be able to tell history’s wrong side from its right.So Chief Justice Roberts and the others are going to want to surf the wave of history... that wave that we're still watching for.