Major call by 'umpire' Chief Justice Roberts was admirable

On June 28, the Supreme Court upheld President Barack Obama's signature healthcare reform law by a 5-4 vote. Much conversation has since ensued about the communications impact of this decision on both Obama and Mitt Romney ahead of the presidential election.

On June 28, the Supreme Court upheld President Barack Obama's signature healthcare reform law by a 5-4 vote.

Much conversation has since ensued about the communications impact of this decision on both Obama and Mitt Romney ahead of the presidential election.

However, an equally noteworthy revelation was what the outcome says about Chief Justice John Roberts, who cast the deciding vote. In the majority opinion, he explained the individual health insurance mandate - the central provision of Obama's Affordable Care Act - is constitutional on the basis of it being a tax. Democrats lauded the decision. Republicans fumed, not only at the ruling, but also at the fact that a George W. Bush-appointed justice would come to such an anti-conservative conclusion.

Good for him. As the country's highest judicial officer, politics must not appear to be the presiding factor in his judgments. His ruling throws a curve ball to all those who had Roberts pigeonholed as a predictable across-the-board conservative vote.

The baseball reference is fitting, too. During his confirmation hearings in September 2005, Roberts explained, "Judges are like umpires. Umpires don't make the rules; they apply them. The role of an umpire and a judge is critical, but it is a limited one. Nobody ever went to a ball game to see the umpire. My job [is] to call balls and strikes, not pitch or bat."

Agree or disagree with his ruling, Roberts remained true to his words - and consistency in a message is a standard to which all should aspire. And at only 57 years old, he will likely be in a position to provide such an example for the next 25-plus years.

Appearing on ABC's This Week on July 1, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), a rising GOP star, blasted Roberts. "The chief justice had to contort logic and reason to come up with this ruling," he said. "He decided to leave this up to the American people. Now the stakes of this election could not be higher."

So Roberts is being criticized for leaving a vital decision that impacts all US citizens to those citizens? Isn't that the very foundation upon which this country was built? Returning to the baseball analogy, the best statement an umpire can send is a quiet one, where he ensures a fair contest and lets the players determine the outcome. By not clamoring to be the center of attention, this "umpire" sent a strong message.

Gideon Fidelzeid is the managing editor of PRWeek. He can be contacted at gideon.fidelzeid@prweek.com.

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