28 June 2012

One moment of return . . .

Perhaps in his autobiography, if he ever writes one, Chief Justice Roberts will explain his rationale for his vote to uphold President Obama’s Health Care Act. Such explanation will be an interesting account. Certainly, nothing in his position on the Supreme Court thus far, and especially during his tenure as Chief Justice would have led me to suspect that Roberts would have assumed the position he has taken in this case before the Court. And from what I have observed about the Roberts’ Court up until this moment, and specifically the decision in Citizens vs. United, the Court has shown little concern for the welfare of actual living and breathing human beings or the democracy by which they would live. In this instance Roberts has thankfully shown a depth I did not suspect he possessed.
Indeed, the four conservative judges who seemed ready to strike down the entire Health Care Law made Roberts vote not only critical but even the more surprising. On the one hand, Roberts’ vote highlights the insensitivity and callousness of the minority position. They would continue the suffering of the most vulnerable. If in Camus’s The Plague Dr. Rieux, states almost casually that to fight the plague is “common decency, ” then the four dissenting justices have acted without decency and are the more reprehensible for their heartlessness. There are circles in Dante’s Hell to which they might be consigned.
And as I continue to read about the decision, I think more and more about Earl Warren and the unanimous decision he constructed in Brown vs. Board of Education. Eisenhower never ceased to regret the appointment of Warren (and William Brennan Jr.) to the Supreme Court, both of whom led the Court to rendering more liberal (read ‘just and democratic’ decisions) that transformed the society in ways that are still being recognized. Because it is clear that Roberts’ swing vote ensured that the Health Care initiative remains the law of the land, and that the United States can continue to belong as an honorable member of the club to which the rest of the Western nations belong and who guarantee that their citizens have the right to be sick and to expect treatment for their illnesses. Roberts vote to uphold the law represents an act of common decency, and he applies to become a member of a very select and honorable fellowship. I hope this turn endures.
And at this moment I am also thinking of Father Paneloux’s final sermon in Albert Camus’s The Plague. Paneloux did not desert the plague-stricken Oran, and having contracted the plague is now dying of it. In an earlier sermon, he had ascribed the onset of the plague to God’s retribution on the sinful city, but in this his final sermon, he urges,  “Each one of us must be the one who stays [to fight the plague] . . . we should go forward, groping our way through the darkness, stumbling perhaps at times, and try to do what good lay in our power.” And I would note, to all the tea partiers and self-righteous Christian conservatives, that it is this commitment that shows the love of God. We must accept this our workwhich is to love Godor we must refuse that work which is to hate God. And who, Paneloux asks, would choose to hate God. The four dissenting justices have refused that work.
It would seem that  in his work in this case John Roberts may have discovered himself and stumbled to do some good that lay in his power. In this moment I think also of Tarrou who, too, devotes himself to fighting the plague and who, too, falls victim to it. He says, “I only now that one must do what one can to cease being plague stricken, and that’s the only way in which we can hope for some peace.” I think that John Roberts may sleep more peacefully tonight for having ceased being plague stricken.  


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