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The Supreme Importance of the Court's Message

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

"I feel like Justice Roberts cheated on me," said a friend, half in jest, half expressing honest disappointment. Having once emceed a "Women for Roberts" press conference for C-SPAN back in the day, I heard a lot of similar sentiments in the wake of his penning the majority opinion for the Supreme Court decision that "upheld Obamacare," as many have put it.


But the whole of the president's health care legislation wasn't actually the question before the Court.

I was not alone Thursday morning, thinking about the man who appointed the chief justice, former President George W. Bush. Reading the majority opinion, my mind went to an April morning in 2008, on the West Lawn of the White House.

Welcoming Pope Benedict XVI on his visit to the capital, the president said: "In a world where some treat life as something to be debased and discarded, we need your message that all human life is sacred and that 'each of us is willed, each of us is loved.'"

"Elections matter," a friend and colleague said to me that day. It wasn't until recently that this idea started to become a palpable realization in the hearts and minds of many Americans. The "Fortnight for Freedom" observations called for by Catholic bishops were inspired by the encroachments of the Obama administration, which has stomped on the conscience rights of religious organizations in the name of its health care crusade. While accusing Catholics and other people of faith of imposing their views on the rest of the country, the government is using its coercive power to insist that everyone subscribe to its radical ideology, conscience be damned -- or pay a fee.


My friend's declaration about elections is the point of a line in Chief Justice Roberts' majority opinion: "It is not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices." Translated for our political season: "This is what you elected."

The debate about the health care legislation has played itself out, as framed by the architects of the policy, as a "war on women" involving access to contraception and abortion. But the question before American voters is not the morality of contraception or any theological issue but something quite fundamental and universal.

"For the first time in the history of health care in the United States," said Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb. who led a recent bipartisan discussion of the law with other congress members, "this law would force Americans to choose to either obey the government or violate their personal convictions ... It is wrong ... and it is an affront to the very purpose of our government, derived from the consent of the governed."


This goes back to the very thing that the pope and the president talked about on the White House lawn in 2008: the value of human life and the future of freedom itself.

Once all of the dueling commentary, despondency and celebrations pass, I'd rally around what the chief justice said. His ruling wasn't an infidelity inasmuch as a nudge about staying awake and answering our civic calls.

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