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Week In News: Rounding Up The Health Care Ruling


It's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Laura Sullivan.

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: Today's ruling underscores the urgency of repealing this harmful law in its entirety.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: What the country can't afford to do is refight the political battles of two years ago.

MITT ROMNEY: What the court did not do on its last day in session I will do on my first day if elected president of the United States.

SULLIVAN: John Boehner, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney weighing in this past week on the Supreme Court's ruling that the majority of the Affordable Health Care Act is constitutionally sound. James Fallows of The Atlantic joins us as he does most Saturdays. Hello, Jim.

JAMES FALLOWS: Hello, Laura.

SULLIVAN: Jim, were you surprised that John Roberts sided with the more left-leaning members of the court?

FALLOWS: I was surprised, and I think many people were. I was also heartened in this way as an institutional matter entirely apart from the merits of the Obama health care plan. If you would think back to a time when John Roberts was being considered for confirmation as chief justice seven years ago, the main way he presented himself was as somebody who famously would be an umpire on public issues. He would call balls and strikes but not get involved in the game. He would embody the principles of judicial restraint.

And in the years since that time, the court under his leadership has actually had the opposite kind of record in a number of cases, most famously of Citizens United. It seemed as if the conservative majority led by Chief Justice Roberts was going out of its way to look for old precedents to overturn and answering questions that the case itself didn't necessarily pose.

So if he had joined the conservative majority in this case and said that because the commerce clause didn't apply to the health care act and the individual mandate, then the whole law would have had to be thrown out, I think it would have aggravated a trend that's been building up in the last few years of viewing the court as a largely partisan body. In his ruling, Chief Justice Roberts was careful to say that the court's business was not to judge whether a certain law was wise or unwise public policy, but only whether the Congress was within its legal rights to enact this law. And so I think he did something important for the court and the country in the ruling that he delivered.

SULLIVAN: Every once in a while, a case comes along that just seems to really fix the country's gaze on the Supreme Court, and I can't remember it being this intense since Bush versus Gore.

FALLOWS: That's - I agree. And certainly, there are Supreme Court rulings over the years that have profound effects, whether it's Roe v. Wade or the Miranda case or many others. But the sort of deadline sense of knowing that at 10 a.m. Eastern Time, the world is going to be different in some ways from what it was before that, the only precedents - modern precedents - apart from Bush v. Gore, I think, were the Nixon tapes ruling in 1974 where the Supreme Court unanimously said that President Nixon had to turn over his secret White House tapes.

And then the Pentagon Papers ruling in 1971 where the Nixon administration was trying to keep secrets, some of the documents, about the Vietnam War. So in my conscious memory, this is only the fourth of these big episodes, and it's - it deserved the attention it got.

SULLIVAN: So how is this decision going to affect the campaigns? Do you think it's a win for the Obama campaign, or do you think it's a win for the Romney campaign?

FALLOWS: I think that probably each side can find things to be happy about in this argument. But from a purely political calculation, this is better for the Obama team than it is for the Republicans. If he had lost, it would be one more sign of the thing that no president can afford to be portrayed as, which is feckless and helpless and not able to sort of master events. So if Obama can say that the main thing he tried to do is now enacted, that's more good to him than it is harm for him in energizing his foes.

SULLIVAN: James Fallows is national correspondent with The Atlantic. You can read his blog at jamesfallows.theatlantic.com. And his latest book is called "China Airborne." Jim, thanks so much.

FALLOWS: My pleasure, Laura. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.