U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann’s reaction to yesterday’s ruling by the Supreme Court upholding the Affordable Care Act no doubt represented the sentiments of more than a few of her fellow Republicans.
”[T]his was an activist court that you saw today,” opined Bachmann, invoking one of the GOP’s favorite bugaboos — judicial activism.
Judicial activism, if you don’t know, is basically defined as a court ruling that overturns a democratically-enacted law. When it suits their political purposes, conservatives like to pretend that any such ruling amounts to judicial usurpation of the legislative function. They say it amounts to judges making law from the bench rather than just intepreting law.
The hypocrisy in all of this is that right-wingers have no problem at all when judges overturn democratically-enacted laws that right-wingers don’t like.
Of course, this whole thing about judicial activism is silly on its face. The only basis for overturning any law — whether it’s one that conservatives favor and liberals dislike or vice-versa — is that it arguably violates the U.S. Constitution. I say “arguably” because judges don’t always agree on the constitutionality (or lack thereof) of certain laws. Moreover, interpretations of the Constitution have evolved over the past 200-plus years. There have been cases, for example, in which what was eminently constitutional according to the courts of the 19th century was found to be fundamentally unconstitutional by the courts of the 20th or 21st centuries.
So, Michele Bachmann’s disappointment with yesterday’s ruling is that it did not represent judicial activism. It did not overturn a law that was duly enacted by the people’s representatives in Congress. Her first impulse was to invoke the hobgoblin of judicial activism, but she was flat-out wrong.