‘Judicial restraint’

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'Judicial restraint'
'Judicial restraint'
Associated Press

I was tempted the other day to pull together the most over-the-top hysterics surrounding Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts and his ruling on the Affordable Care Act, but I quickly gave up. The task was simply too daunting – the right’s apoplexy was excessive to the point of comedy.

That said, some of the more “cringe worthy” reactions included talk of Roberts being a “traitor” and a “coward” who should be, quite literally, impeached. Several conservatives targeted the Chief Justice personally, questioning his fitness due to Roberts’ epilepsy medication. The conspiracy theories were fun, too.

But I was especially impressed with a column from Washington Post columnist Marc Thiessen, a former Bush speechwriter, who complained, among other things, about Roberts not relying on “a philosophy of judicial restraint.”

I wonder how Thiessen defines the phrase. In this case, Roberts followed precedent and decided not to undo a major piece of domestic legislation approved by the executive branch and majorities in both chambers of Congress*. Nearly every legal expert in the country assumed this case was something of a no-brainer, and Roberts chose not to take a radical path. Isn’t that what “judicial restraint” is all about?

Adam Serwer had a good piece yesterday on the right’s misguided cries about Roberts, considering the hysterics in the larger context.

Conservatives want their judges to consider themselves card-carrying members of the conservative movement, and at the same time they want those judges’ rulings, when handed down, to be treated with unquestionable legitimacy even by those who disagree with the decisions. When those judges diverge from the goals of the movement, they are pilloried as though they were heretical senators or members of Congress, conservative anguish only magnified by the knowledge that the infidels cannot be knocked back in line by a competitive primary.

Having excoriated liberals for calling the court partisan, conservatives are now gnashing their teeth because the court failed to be as partisan as they wanted. That makes the complaints about politics supposedly driving Roberts’ decision ring hollow. They wanted politics to drive the decision. They just wanted it to go their way.

Well said. It’s a bit like every partisan ideologue decrying every court ruling they don’t like as “judicial activism” – it’s a hollow complaint.

We’ve reached the point at which a very conservative justice is a traitorous coward because he demonstrated judicial restraint, honored precedent, and had the audacity to disappoint conservative activists who want justices to serve as Republican super-legislators. Our system of government simply isn’t supposed to work this way, and thankfully, last week, it didn’t.

* corrected

John Roberts and Supreme Court

'Judicial restraint'

Updated