This week in Washington D.C. was one that won’t soon be forgotten.
The week began with the United States Supreme Court striking down three of the four major provisions of SB 1070 Arizona’s immigration law, while upholding it’s most controversial provision, the so called, “show me your papers” law. The law states that Arizona law enforcement has the right to check the immigration status of anyone they suspect to be in the country illegally. Critics of SB 1070 argue that such a law is or will lead to racial profiling of Hispanics and other minorities. Arizona has one of the highest populations of illegal immigrants in the country, however reports have shown the number of illegal immigrants in the state have fallen dramatically over the past few years. Even though the Supreme court upheld the controversial provision critics of the law were pleased that the court left open the possibility for further hearings on the law if racial profiling results from Arizona’s implementation.
That was only the beginning of what was a busy week in the nations capitol. Another historic moment came Thursday when the House of Representatives voted to hold United States Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress. Chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Darrell Issa called for the vote, accusing the Attorney General of deliberately withholding documents relating to the botched operation run by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms known as Fast and Furious. The contempt vote marked the first time in United States history that a sitting cabinet member has been held in contempt of Congress. Republicans in the house voted unanimously, with 17 democrats joining them in finding the Attorney General in contempt of Congress. The remaining Democrats, led by the Congressional Black Caucus, staged a walk out as a sign of protest. Many Democrats felt the vote was political for a variety of reasons. Some clamored that the unprecedented move was an attempt embarrass the White House in an election year. Others claimed the contempt vote was payback against the Attorney General, whose Justice Department is challenging a number of voter I.D. laws across the country. Some Republicans even floated the theory that Fast and Furious was an attempt to push what they called the president’s anti-2nd Amendment agenda.
As historic as the contempt vote was, it paled in comparison to the other notable event that took place Thursday. In the last session of the year the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision on the controversial “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act”, also referred to in the political lexicon as “Obamacare”. The decision was one that many experienced court watchers were not expecting. The Supreme Court upheld the law by a 5-4 vote. The court upheld a majority of the law including the individual mandate requiring everyone to have health insurance. However, the court did strike down the provision forcing states to expand Medicaid programs. Instead, the Court ruled that states should have the ability to opt-out of the expansion. Four of the five votes came from liberal justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan. It was the fifth and deciding vote that came as a surprise, especially to conservatives. Chief Justice John Roberts, who was appointed to the court by former President George W. Bush in 2005, was the deciding vote. It is worth noting that during his confirmation hearings then Senator Barack Obama voted against his nomination to become Chief Justice. In the end it was Roberts who saved the president’s most notable legislative achievement.
The implications of the health care ruling on the 2012 presidential election are still unknown. It will be interesting to see what political ramifications come from the law being upheld, and the political calculations made by the campaigns over the next five months. The presumptive Republican nominee for president, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, has vowed to “repeal and replace Obamacare,” but President Obama and his re-election campaign have already begun to reiterate how the bill will help all Americans. President Obama has said in the past that much of the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” was based off a similar law Mitt Romney passed as Governor of Massachusetts, especially the individual mandate. As Governor, Romney called the individual mandate “essential for bringing the health care costs down for everyone and getting everyone the health insurance they need.” Nothing is certain in politics, but what we can expect for the next five months until the election is for the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” to be debated vigorously.