Today, in a long and complicated ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act. This is an important victory for millions of uninsured people in our country and ultimately a triumph of the common good. Children, young adults, and families will have access to basic health care, adding security and stability to their lives.
While I believe the decision is reason to celebrate, it doesn’t mean that this legislation is somehow the flawless will of God; it is an important step in expanding health care coverage and reducing long term costs, but it still is not perfect and more work is yet to be done.
Many Christian organizations and people of faith were involved in advocating for expanded insurance coverage, specifically for low-income and vulnerable people. And that’s what we can never forget: our involvement in the world of politics is always based in and motivated by the way that it affects the lives of real people, and especially poor people.
This last week, I’ve watched the endless political pre-coverage of the Supreme Court decision, and I was struck first by the poor quality of the questions being asked. Now that the decision has been made, the pontification is just as bad. We need to be focused on those who are left out and left behind, not who is up or down in politics and the polls.
The pundits ask: how will this affect the election? Who’s the political winner, who’s the loser? Republicans or Democrats; Obama or Romney? Is the Supreme Court too politicized or not enough? Who is protecting and who is destroying the reputation and dignity of the court? These are interesting political questions but not the fundamental questions for Christians to ask.
Our bottom line is different. We don’t start with politics, but rather with how these decisions affect real people. Here are our questions: how will the results of the decision today affect the people who still don’t have adequate and reasonably priced health care? What about the people still not covered under the Affordable Care Act? Will there still be those who are too poor to be healthy in America? How do we move from a mindset that views health care as merely a commodity and not a human right? These are the questions for Christians, not who wins and who loses the political debate.
Health care was not the only decision in this past week that will have an impact on the lives of many in this country. Here are a few short takes on other important decisions regarding immigration, juvenile justice and money in politics:
Immigration: On Monday, the Court overturned most of SB 1070, Arizona’s harsh anti-immigrant law. Affirming that immigration policy is the purview of the federal government, the Court struck down state policies that attacked immigrants and sought to pre-empt federal laws. The Court did not rule on the morally troubling section, known as 2(B) or the “papers please” provision, saying they did not yet have enough information. 2(B) allows law enforcement to check the immigration status of individuals detained for non-immigration offenses, if there is a “reasonable suspicion” that the person is undocumented. Faith leaders, civil rights activists, and many o thers are concerned this policy will lead to racial-profiling and civil rights violations. Instead, the Court’s ruling indicated they may consider future cases challenging this section on civil rights grounds.
Money in Politics: In the early 20th century, Montana had one of the most corrupt political systems in the United States. Corporate interests, particularly the copper mining industry, gave out huge amounts of money to have their candidates elected to state offices. This eventually led to a state law in 1912 prohibiting corporate contributions. Following the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United, a case was brought in the Montana courts challenging the state law. The Montana Supreme Court upheld the existing law, citing the state’s history and experience.
On Monday, SCOTUS overturned that decision with a short, unsigned order that peremptorily concluded: “Montana’s arguments in support of the judgment below either were already rejected in Citizens United, or fail to meaningfully distinguish that case. … The judgment of the Supreme Court of Montana is reversed.” Like the rest of the country, Montana is now fair game for the millions of dollars being poured into this year’s elections by unaccountable SuperPACs.
Juvenile Justice: Nearly 2,000 inmates serving life in prison could be eligible to have their sentences adjusted based on a SCOTUS ruling made Monday. More than two dozen states had laws on the books allowing for mandatory life sentences for minors in the case of certain homicide convictions. In a 5-4 decision, the Court declared life without parole “cruel and unusual punishment” and unconstitutional under the 8th amendment. Current inmates, some of whom have been imprisoned since as young as age 14, will now have the opportunity to appeal their sentences. This ruling was another step in line with a 2005 decision that rejected the death penalty for juveniles and a 2010 decision that ended the sentence of life without parole for juveniles who committed non-homicide offenses.
Jim Wallis is the author of Rediscovering Values: A Guide for Economic and Moral Recovery, and CEO of Sojourners. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.