As the Supreme Court begins hearing oral arguments today about the fate of the Affordable Care Act, it is important to keep in mind that the law remains very unpopular. A CBS New/New Times poll shows only about a third of Americans actually support the law, while nearly half the country disapproves of it. From CBS News:
A CBS News/New York Times poll shows 47 percent of Americans disapprove of the president’s Affordable Care Act, including 30 percent who strongly disapprove. In the poll, conducted March 21-25, only 36 percent of those questioned said they support the law either somewhat or strongly.
Ideally things like public opinion should not have an impact on the supposedly impartial legal judgements of the nine Supreme Court justices, but no man is an island.
We are all products of the society in which we live, shaped by our many daily interactions with each other. It would be foolish to think that the unpopularity of the law didn’t directly or indirectly impact the decision of those currently hearing the case against the ACA. The intense partisan debate and huge media focus have to have an effect on the Justices, even if they cannot openly acknowledge it.
For a conservative justice hoping to define the limits of federal power, doing it in an opinion striking down an unpopular law would politically be the best possible opportunity. And it could be easier for an undecided judge to rule against the mandate knowing that a majority of the country not only wants them to, but expects them to.
At the very least the clamoring from all sides to finally have a verdict on the constitutionality of the individual mandate could easily cause the Supreme Court to choose to rule on it this year, even though if this were a much lower profile case they would likely punt the case by invoking the Tax Anti-Injunction Act. This case has already made its way to the Supreme Court much faster than cases normally do.