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PoliSci, the Courts, and the ACA

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Michael Bailey and Forest Maltzman have a piece up at the Prospect arguing that the best political science modelling suggests that the Supreme Court will uphold the ACA. I don’t necessarily disagree with their conclusion, but I’m skeptical about some aspects of their specific argument. To summarize, 1)I don’t really buy the argument that Kennedy is particularly likely to feel constrained by precedent, and 2)even if I did since he can get around precedents by interpreting them the way a majority of Republican federal court appointees have interpreted them rather than the way Laurence Silberman interpreted them it’s moot. (In addition, we don’t know how Silberman would have ruled if he was on the Supreme Court; one problem with framing this as a conflict between “law” and “politics” is that it’s not bad legal practice for Supreme Court majorities to overrule or narrowly interpret their own precedents, even if one assumes arguendo that Wickard and Raich compel the upholding of the ACA.)

In this specific case, I actually think that straightforward, less sophisticated attitudinal measures tell us the most; Kennedy is more moderate than his Republican-appointed colleagues and is more likely to vote to uphold the ACA than they are, but there are enough competing imperatives that it’s impossible to predict his vote with any confidence. More complex strategic factors may well influence the final vote count and how the opinions are written, but I don’t think they will have much influence on the bottom-line outcome.

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