Following up on the view of Ezra Klein's that I quoted in this post, I now draw your attention to a column in the New York Times by Pamela S. Karlan, professor of public interest law at Stanford University:
Anton Chekhov once remarked that "one must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it." In the term that ended last week, the Supreme Court reached a liberal outcome in cases involving President Obama's health care law, Arizona's draconian immigration statute and mandatory life sentences for juveniles. But the conservative majority also laid down a cache of weapons that future courts can use to attack many of the legislative achievements of the New Deal and the Great Society - including labor, environmental, civil rights and consumer protection laws - and to prevent new progressive legislation. Far from being a source of jubilation, the term may come back to haunt liberals.
The immediate result of Thursday's 5-to-4 health care ruling was a victory for the Obama administration and the millions of Americans who will get improved access to medical care. But four justices would have struck down every provision of the 900-plus-page act, and Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who provided the fifth vote to uphold the mandate that individuals buy insurance or pay a penalty, distanced himself from the law. "It is not our job," he wrote, "to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices." The chief justice, who at 57 is likely to sit on the court for at least another two decades, made clear that government's ability to address many of the nation's most pressing problems is subject to some new limitations.
We take for granted that the federal government can forbid landlords to reject a tenant based on his race or religion; prohibit development on fragile wetlands; finance the Medicare program for the elderly; require public schools to give girls an equal opportunity to play sports; collect revenue to pay for the National Institutes of Health and the national parks; encourage energy conservation by taxing gas guzzlers; prohibit discriminatory voter ID laws; and vindicate the right of state government employees to take unpaid leave to care for sick relatives.
The conservative legal movement has already attacked many of these provisions, and the Roberts court has been steadily supplying it with ammunition to do so.
Karlan then enlarges upon this. She concludes that '[t]he Supreme Court has given Americans who care about economic and social justice a reason to worry this Fourth of July'. (Thanks: DS.)