Columbia Professors Weigh in on Supreme Court Decision Upholding Affordable Care Act

Robert Shapiro is a professor of political science, who specializes in American politics, especially public opinion and political behavior, political psychology and political leadership.

Here’s his view on the issues raised in the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 opinion on the Affordable Care Act.

Interview by Tanya Domi
June 28, 2012

Q. How will the decision affect the campaign for president and, ultimately, the November election?

The Republicans will use this as a major issue in tandem with the economy—and they’ll work to connect the two by criticizing big government as having adverse economic effects. The decision will make the partisan fight more bitter, rally the Tea Party and others on the right. The Republicans will use this in all races. The opposition has it easier in the sense that they just need to make undecided voters anxious and uncertain about health care reform and its personal and broader economic consequences, to lead voters to vote against the Democrats, in contrast to the Democrats who have to make an active case to gain support.

Q. What is the fallout for the Supreme Court?

The nature of the decision was a major surprise. Thinking about this is in broader political and historical perspective, Justice Roberts in my view is, or could be, the big winner by rising above the partisan political fray and supporting a decision on classic judicial grounds, which was deciding on basis of the taxation argument that, while clearly highly credible, had been rejected by the Obama administration in arguing the case. The decision written by [Chief Justice John] Roberts rejected any extension of the Commerce Clause, which may prove to be of great significance going forward. Roberts is the winner in that compared to the ideological and partisan polarization that has affected all branches of government, including the U.S. Supreme Court itself, he has shown a level of statesmanship of the sort that is sorely needed to end the current vehement level of political conflict in the nation.

Q. What does this say about Obama as a politician?

It says that he is a persistent politician, whom I would compare to Bill Clinton, who keeps at it and does not get discouraged. This may be something he learned back in his community organizing days, when his efforts had their failures and successes.

Q. What kind of an issue is health care going forward now?

Health care could be an even more bitter issue pushed by the Republicans, and it will be interesting to see if the Democrats can neutralize this and even turn it against them.

Q. How does the opinion reflect on Obama’s decision, against the advice of many advisers, to pursue health care reform so early in his first term?

It vindicates Obama and the historical nature of the Affordable Care Act and justifies the effort that went into it. We will have to see how the electorate reacts.