Today the Supreme Court ruled President Obama’s health bill constitutional. Much ink has already been spilled about the bill and the rationale behind the Court’s decision. Many scholars find it odd that Chief Justice Roberts joined in the opinion and acted as the “swing vote” when this role is usually reserved for Justice Anthony Kennedy. Justices Scalia, Alito and Thomas voted as expected, but Thomas’ short individual dissent struck me as odd because he states the Government claims it can regulate “not only economic activity but also inactivity.” Justice Thomas literally got the last word, and this is interesting in light of comments I heard Justice Thomas make at a reception I attended in February.
I am a lifelong Democrat, and I have never been a fan of Justice Thomas’ views on government. While he is a strict constructionist of the Constitution, I take a more expansive reading. Be that as it may, I took the opportunity to attend a reception at my old law school in February where Justice Thomas spoke. And I had the chance to meet him.
Justice Thomas is a very friendly guy, and I found I liked him. Of course we did not discuss politics, and I failed to mention to him I represent plaintiff’s in personal injury law suits and handle Social Security disability claims. More than likely he would not approve of such cases. In fact, I am certain he would not approve.
Justice Thomas spoke of the collegiality of the Court, which I am sure exists. Justices tend to like each other personally, but they have differences of philosophy when it comes to the law and the government or so I have gathered.
Everything is going fine, and I am warming up to the guy. The little voice inside my head says “he’s not a bad guy.” Then he said something I will never forget: “you would be better knowing nothing at all about the Supreme Court than anything the media tells you.”
Images of Justice Thomas’ confirmation hearings flashed in front of my eyes; I watched these hearings when I was in the 7th grade. If I were him, I would not like the media either I guess. But who has time to read a Supreme Court decision? And how does he define the media?
Based on the tenor of his discussion I assume he meant the evil monolith that is the “liberal media” (evil in his mind, not mine). In general, I disagree with this bold statement.
One caveat though: today I printed out the health care decision, and it is 193 pages. This is long, even for Supreme Court decisions. I cannot say I have given it a close reading thus far. Perhaps I will later. Of course if you listened to the media’s (CNN and FOX) initial reports you would think the case went the other way because they got it wrong—at least at first. So maybe Justice Thomas was right for a few minutes.
Justice Thomas did get the last word, but it did not help his cause. What he says and what the other dissent he joined in says are not legally binding. Perhaps the dissents will influence right wing think tank thought, but only time will tell if the dissents mean anything.
The conclusion I have drawn from Justice Thomas’ unique perspective is I am better off not knowing anything about the Court if the media tells me. Likewise, my lack of knowledge or perhaps my “inactivity” in failing to know cannot be regulated by the federal government at least according to Justice Thomas.