The Supreme Court and Obama’s Health Care Law

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When it comes to the future of the Obama administration’s health care plan, the judicial math can seem simple.

So far in three lawsuits against the plan, two federal judges appointed by Democrats have upheld the law; one Republican-appointed judge has declared an important part of it unconstitutional. Use party as your measure, send the cases up the appeals ladder, and you quickly get to a 5-4 decision at the Supreme Court: the justices appointed by Republican presidents will vote to strike down the law. Game over, thanks for playing.

But the votes of the Supreme Court are not that easy to divine, and while political considerations can creep into any judge’s views, deeper factors are at play, said Mark Tushnet, a professor at Harvard Law School. Supreme Court justices, for the most part, “are attuned to their reputations as individuals in history, and their overall place in the government as a whole,” he said.

Supreme Court justices work differently from judges at the District Court level, noted Jack Balkin, a constitutional scholar at Yale. “Federal District Court judges do not have to deliberate with anyone else,” he said. “Multimember courts are affected by who sits with them,” and “this is especially true of a nine-person Supreme Court.”...

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