It is clear that a landmark decision is in the works before the U.S. Supreme Court. The issue, a national health care bill. YNN's Bill Carey says court watchers are at a loss to predict which arguments will prevail, in large part because of changes in the very nature of the nation's highest tribunal.
SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- From its first session 223 years ago under Chief Justice John Jay to the current court headed by John Roberts, the Supreme Court has maintained a far more popular image among Americans than virtually any other institution of government.
“Many people do think of the court as insulated from the hurly burly of politics,” said Professor Keith Bybee.
Bybee heads the center for the study of the judiciary, politics and media at Syracuse University's Maxwell School.
“Because they serve for life, they don't have to run for re-election, they're in a position where they can be impartial arbiters of the law,” Bybee said.
But just as the court has been trusted by the majority since the birth of the republic, it has always faced a substantial number of doubters.
Bybee said, “If you elevate people in this way, you make them unaccountable to anyone else, they'll follow their basest desires and preferences. They'll be politically unconstrained.”
In the midst of its latest great debate, centering on a health care bill, justices are being catalogued as conservative or liberal. Who are the middle of the roaders? What argument will sway the majority? A key question is just how far the court should go. It's no longer an easy question to answer.
“This is an old argument that actually dates back to the late 19th century, that the Supreme Court should only hold a law or find it to be unconstitutional when there's a clear mistake,” Bybee said. “When everyone would agree that it's unconstitutional. I think what we've seen happening is disagreement about what constitutes a clear mistake.”
In many ways, the court of 2012 may more closely reflect the society than ever before. Deeply divided. The pendulum ready to swing in either direction.
Bybee said, “So, there's not a core of consensus about the meaning of principles. Instead, there's disagreement that goes all the way down to foundational levels about the meaning of bedrock ideas. How great is Congress' regulatory authority? How much of the economy can Congress regulate? Everyone agrees that Congress has some limits. What are those limits?”
The court's answers may offer a legal resolution. But the divide, in society and on the court, is far from being resolved.
Arguments before the high court will wrap up on Wednesday. A ruling could come by late June.