In addition to their jobs as US District Court Judges, Roger Vinson and Henry Hudson have at least two other things in common: they have both ruled that the individual mandate to buy medical insurance contained in the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional (Judge Vinson went further than Hudson in throwing out the entire law rather than that single element), and they were both nominated by Republican presidents. Two other judges, US District Judge George Steeh and US District Judge Norman Moon, have upheld the law. Both were nominated by Democrats.
There has been much speculation in the last several years that our judiciary, including the US Supreme Court, has become increasingly politicized. The fact that these ideologically divided judicial decisions come after the ACA itself was passed in the face of unanimous and bitter partisan opposition from Republicans in congress can only serve to reinforce those concerns. Appellate courts will now have their say before the matter moves to the Supreme Court where many are predicting an ideological split (Roberts/Scalia/Alito/Thomas vs. Ginsburg/Breyer/Sotomayor/Kagan) with Kennedy being the swing vote
In a recent letter to The New York Times Lawrence Tribe, a law professor at Harvard Law School, rejects the notion that the Supreme Court will undergo such a partisan split on the case, believing that it’s an insult to the intellect and integrity of the conservative judges to believe that they will uphold the flawed reasoning of either Vinson or Hudson.
Let’s hope he’s right. It’s disconcerting, nevertheless, for laymen, with no particular legal training to be able to predict, with seemingly uncanny accuracy, how the court will divide on ideologically charged issues such as upholding an individual’s right to own a gun (District of Columbia vs. Hellier and McDonald vs. Chicago) or on George W Bush’s detention policies at Guantanamo Bay; or how district court judges will rule on the health care law.