In an unprecedented attempt to create more transparency in the United States Supreme Court, Chief Justice John Roberts has announced that he will publish a book of essays explaining some of his major rulings while serving on the Supreme Court. In anticipation of this book, Justice Roberts has released the first essay, on the recent controversial National Federation of Independent Businesses v. Sebelius ruling, which upheld the Affordable Care Act as constitutional. The essay, titled “Justices Night Out, Gone Awry” opens with a simple explanation of his ruling, as outlined in the official slip opinion, and also elucidates what Justice Roberts calls “the background drama emphasized so strongly by the media.”
The Supreme Court has this clever little system in which, whenever we come to a decision, we write up our opinion to be bound and saved for all time, so that the whole world and all of posterity can understand the precise reasons for our decision. The case of National Federation of Independent Businesses v. Sebelius was not any different. I worked with my clerk for hours, for days, for nights on end precisely wording the opinion so that everyone in America would not only understand why I decided what I decided but, for once and for all, they would understand that the Supreme Court is not a partisan entity. That whatever cockananny idea your elected officials come up with, I have to say it’s okay as long as it’s within the realm of the Constitution. Think of it this way: the Constitution is like the laws of physics and America is like one giant amusement park. If you elect people who are going to use their power to create the Kingda Ka of health care legislation, then you’re going to have to live with the terrifying consequences, because just like Kingda Ka follows the laws of physics, the Affordable Care Act follows the laws of the Constitution. Simple as that.
But carefully explaining your reasoning isn’t good enough for some people, who shall remain anonymous for the purposes of this story, especially if you changed your mind halfway through the reasoning process (just think how scandalous: a judge taking time to carefully deliberate and review the full case before making up his mind!). So to appease all of those tittering, anonymous men and women, here’s a full, honest rundown of the background drama emphasized so strongly by the media. I think, by the end, it should be pretty clear that these petty, backroom dramas had little to no effect on the actual ruling.
Our story starts during a weekly Justices Night Out. This week the planning had fallen on me and as I had an inexplicable craving for unlimited minestrone-soaked breadsticks, I chose the only logical location: The Olive Garden. I sent out a friendly evite, complete with the animation of a dancing penguin eating a breadstick. It was adorable. Still, after arriving at The Olive Garden out in Falls Church, Virginia, and waiting a good breadstick-less half hour Justices Scalia and Kennedy still had not arrived. All six of the other justices had arrived soon after I did; even the chronically late Justice Ginsburg was there on time. Finally, after several calls, emails, and texts went unheeded, we were forced to order. I had several bowls of delicious minestrone soup followed by an impeccable dish of spaghetti and meatballs with four cheese sauce. It was a truly lovely evening, all things considered.
Still, the next day there was some tension around the court. Following our morning session, I approached Justice Scalia and asked him why he had missed out on the delightful evening I had planned. He grumbled something incoherent and walked passed me, but Justice Kennedy wasn’t so quick to dismiss the problem.
“The Olive Garden, John, really? You don’t think that’s offensive? You know, adding ‘al forno’ to the end of ‘four cheese ziti’ doesn’t make it real Italian food,” Justice Kennedy told me over lunch that day.
He then proceeded to tell me how he and Justice Scalia had skipped my “Justices Night Out” in favor of going to karaoke at an Applebees. And that Justices Thomas and Alito had joined them after my dinner and even ordered boneless buffalo wings so that they could “get some real food in their stomachs.” It was beyond insulting. And I, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States of America, wasn’t going to have any of it.
That’s about the time when an all-out war broke out between the justices and I found myself, oddly enough, allied with Justices Kagan, Sotomayor, Breyer, and Ginsburg. Justice Breyer was fast to point out that, for someone so caught up on the authenticity of his food, Justice Scalia had an awful lot of Taco Bell containers in his garbage. Meanwhile, Justice Kennedy was starting to spread rumors amongst the clerks that I was planning on upholding the Affordable Care Act just because I didn’t want to look bad in front of the American people. As if, Kennedy! My job is guaranteed for life. I don’t need to impress anyone.
Things got pretty heated after a while and eventually, Kennedy and I had it out. It was pretty frightening. He just kept yelling that “endless breadsticks were not worth shitting all over poor Scalia’s heritage,” like a crazy person. Did he even know how much planning went into that night? How hard I had to work to make it fun for everyone? It’s not that easy to find an animated penguin evite. That took a lot of Googling. And then he plans an alternate Boys Night Out at an Applebees, ruining my carefully planned evening and then starts spreading rumors about how I was going to decide on the Affordable Care Act case? Especially when he was the one who everyone thought would turn liberal and uphold it? It was over and I needed him to know it, I needed to find a really tangible way to completely rupture ties with him and Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito. I needed to uphold the constitutionality of the individual mandate.
Not that that’s why I did it. Like I said, your elected officials are the ones who came up with this idea. And I can’t be held responsible if they use the power you have given them to create a completely constitutional mandate that forces you to buy health insurance. Read the slip opinion, it’s all there.