It’s been a dramatic week at the Supreme Court. At the start of the week, the Court ruled on the Arizona state legislature's controversial immigration law SB 1070, upholding the "show me your papers" provision. It also ruled that mandatory sentences of life without parole for children under 17 were unconstitutional. Then on Thursday, it upheld most of the Affordable Health Care Act.
Gillian Metzger, professor at Columbia Law School, believes that the ruling on Arizona's immigration law was a victory for the federal government. "I think states and certainly state attorney generals as they look at that ruling may end up concluding that there isn't as much room there for states to experiment as may have initially been thought," the law professor says.
Ilya Shapiro, senior fellow in Constitutional Studies and editor-in-chief of the Cato Supreme Court Review, calls the decision a "mixed bag of results," given that only one out of four provisions was ruled constitutional. What Metzger and Shapiro agree on is that the Supreme Court's ruling reinforces the need for the federal legislators to enact reform. "What the ultimate upshot of this is [is] that we have a broken immigration system, and real reform needs to come from Congress — not from either executive action like President Obama did two weeks ago, or state legislature," Shapiro says.
The two also discussed the role of Chief Justice John Roberts in the ruling of the Affordable Care Act, and what the ruling could mean for his Court's legacy. "Certainly, this case, this opinion, was very much unequivocally the work of John Roberts," Shapiro says. However, it's too soon to tell whether or not Roberts will continue to be a swing vote. "I think you've got to wait til next term where we've got a lot of big ticket cases to see if this is a trend or a phenomena," Metzger says. She believes that the gravity of the case probably weighed heavily on Roberts' decision.
"What it does emphasize, however, is that it is, formally, the Roberts Court, and that means that if the Court had struck this down, it would have been the legacy of the Roberts Court," Metzger says. "I think that institutional role is something that the chief justice felt, and I think it does [explain] to some degree how he ended up voting."
Both Metzger and Shapiro believe that the most significant and far-reaching decision rendered by the Court will be its upholding of the Affordable Care Act. "It signals important things, both about this legislation and about jurisprudence more broadly," Shapiro says.
"Even if Obamacare is upheld, I think that larger things [such as] future legislation regarding social welfare regulation under the Commerce Clause, or even more importantly, this new, groundbreaking precedent regarding the Spending Clause and what strings Congress can attach onto federal funds, will have ramifications for many years to come."