By Obed Manuel
Opinion & Copy Editor
When the U.S. Constitution was first ratified as the law of the land in 1789, there were two aspects of the original document that, in the present day, would be unacceptable: slavery was legal and women could not vote or hold office. These two injustices were constitutional in the eyes of the Founding Fathers.
Three weeks ago, the Supreme Court of the United States questioned the constitutionality of the individual healthcare mandate at the heart of President Barack Obama’s signature piece of signed legislation, the Affordable Care Act.
The four conservative justices, Chief Justice John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas, are expected to vote in favor of striking down the mandate, if not the entire law, pending their ultimate decision.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s website, www.supremecourt.gov, describes the court’s job as one that calls the court “to invalidate legislation or executive actions which, in the Court’s considered judgment, conflict with the Constitution.”
Politicians, talk show hosts and protesters constantly argue that Obama’s signature piece of legislation is a violation of both civil liberties and the original powers granted to the federal government, and ultimately, that it is unconstitutional and should be invalidated by the Supreme Court.
Constitutionality is malleable – it can be shaped to adorn any law or policy change in whatever form is necessary.
That malleability is a fundamental flaw of the Supreme Court’s role in government because decisions made by the court may hinder democracy if a decision goes against the public’s majority opinion on Obamacare.
Justice Scalia was quoted in the New York Times as saying, “My approach would say if you take out the heart of the statute, the statute’s gone.” The third day of arguments was designated for the court to question whether the Affordable Care Act’s other components could stand if the individual mandate were struck down.
If the court were to take Justice Scalia’s route and strike down the Affordable Care Act as a whole, the judicial branch would counter the democratic process.
A Reuters poll conducted March 23-28 showed that 44 percent of Americans favor the Affordable Care Act, while another 21 percent support the law but believe it should do more for the American healthcare system. Striking down the Affordable Care Act would displease an estimated 65 percent of the U.S. population.
At this juncture the nation could very well have an identity crisis: where does power stem from, the people or the Constitution?
The Constitution was written with mechanisms of change because the Founding Fathers understood times would change. The document can be amended, and has been amended to give rights to women and to end slavery.
The time has come for the Constitution to evolve and adapt to the times the U.S. is experiencing.
The nation faces problems it did not face when it was first founded. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, despite being first in healthcare spending, the U.S. ranks 27th in life expectancy and 31st in healthcare coverage out of 34 developed member nations.
The Constitution is a document that belongs to the public, and it can be changed to fit the needs of the public. Big problems call for big solutions, and democracy can provide those big solutions. If the Supreme Court were to invalidate a democratically produced solution, the court would be invalidating democracy, and that is simply unconstitutionally unaffordable.