Don’t Jump to SCOTUS Conclusions

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The Justices of the US Supreme Court sit for their official photograph on October 8, 2010 at the Supreme Court in Washington, DC. Front row (L-R): Associate Justice Clarence Thomas,  Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Associate Justice Anthony M. Kennedy and Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Back Row (L-R): Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice Stephen Breyer, Associate Justice Samuel Alito Jr. and Associate Justice Elena Kagan. (Credit: TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images)

The Justices of the US Supreme Court sit for their official photograph on October 8, 2010 at the Supreme Court in Washington, DC. Front row (L-R): Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Associate Justice Anthony M. Kennedy and Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Back Row (L-R): Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice Stephen Breyer, Associate Justice Samuel Alito Jr. and Associate Justice Elena Kagan. (Credit: TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Written by Dominic Dezzutti

The headlines from the first day of Supreme Court arguments heard on the Affordable Health Care act concentrated on critical questions from the conservative justices, and Justice Anthony Kennedy, considered the swing vote on the court.

If the questions made public today were the only part of the case used to predict how the court will rule in this case, it would be easy to make assumptions on how it may go.

However, this is only the beginning of the arguments and beyond that, there exist other reasons to not make any wild assumptions, positive or negative, on this case just yet.

First of all, it is the job of the Supreme Court justices to mercilessly grill the presenting lawyers. If they left any stone unturned, at this high level, the justices would desperately fail at their jobs.

The questions that made the biggest headlines were from Justice Anthony Kennedy, seen by many as the key swing vote on the court for this issue. However, Kennedy likely understands that he is the swing vote, so his questions may not be a sign of how he is leaning, but more about how serious he is taking his role in this case.

If he is going to be the swing vote, he will need to understand each side’s arguments intimately. His opinion will be held to the highest scrutiny of all when everything is said and done. For the sake of his own legacy, he cannot leave any stone unturned.

If he knows he is the swing vote, it is unlikely he would show his “hand” so to speak, so early in the poker game.

Another reason that it is too early to jump to conclusions on the Affordable Health Care Act decision is that the court clearly understands the influence this decision may have on the 2012 Presidential election. While the questions they are asking may make it look like they are okay with appearing clearly partisan, it is an entirely different thing to take how they will influence the election lightly.

The decision on this case will give one candidate a clear advantage. While that advantage cannot be eliminated, since it must go one way or the other, it will motivate the court to ensure that the judgment is based on clear, cogent legal analysis. The justices cannot afford to simply go with the side they think is right before they hear all of the arguments.

This may seem simple, or even wrong to some people who are convinced that some justices have already made up their mind.

But remember, Supreme Court Justices cannot create new opportunities to correct their legacies. With the impact this decision will have on the United States, each of their opinions will be analyzed for years. If each justice cannot base their opinion on clear constitutional law, they will risk irrevocable harm to how history will judge their entire career.

Supreme Court Justices are not elected leaders, but they have a clear understanding of the political role the Supreme Court plays in American government. All of the court’s decisions play a major role in American government, but some play a much larger role than others. This is one of those times and regardless of perceived political affiliation, they must hold this decision to the highest standard.

It is entertaining to try to predict how the Supreme Court will rule based on the questions asked on the first day of arguments. But there is a great deal of time before the final ruling, and a great deal of influence this decision will have on the legacy of each Justice.

With so much on the line, jumping to any conclusions at this point simply dismisses the long term impact of the final decision.
About The Blogger

- Dominic Dezzutti, producer of the Colorado Decides debate series, a co-production of CBS4 and Colorado Public Television, looks at the local and national political scene in his CBSDenver.com blog. Read new entries here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Dezzutti writes about federal, state and local matters and how our elected leaders are handling the issues important to Colorado. Dezzutti also produces the Emmy winning Colorado Inside Out, hosted by Raj Chohan, on Colorado Public Television.

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