The Supreme Court stood a great deal of conventional political wisdom on its head today by upholding the bulk of the 2010 Affordable Care Act—the landmark law instituting something like universal health care in these United States. Oral arguments over the ruling—National Federation of Independent Businesses v. Sebelius for all you case-law geeks out there—strongly suggested that the high court would strike the law down, finding that the “individual mandate” (the requirement for all Americans to purchase some sort of health coverage) was a violation of the Commerce Clause. This outcome indeed seemed so certain among the chin-wagging pundit set that both CNN and Fox News ran early banner headlines erroneously announcing that the Roberts Court had overturned the health care law.
But the court pursued another interpretation entirely—the majority opinion, authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, conceded that the mandate was not in accordance with the Commerce Clause, but went on to argue that the ACA is actually a tax. The penalty that the government will assess on individuals who do not purchase insurance under the act “is not so high that there is really no choice not to buy health insurance,” Roberts reasoned. He went on to argue that “the payment is not limited to willful violations as penalties for unlawful acts often are; and the payment is collected by the IRS by the normal means of taxation.” Thus the most ambitious piece of social legislation enacted over the past 70 years was found constitutional by a sort of exercise in forensic accounting.
In reality, of course, the Roberts decision was issued in a political minefield—and for all the high court’s close readings of legislative intent and efforts to divine an “originalist” message in the Constitution, the Supremes are always mindful of the political nature of the work they do, and the profound and ongoing fallout it can generate. In the new issue of Bookforum, Dahlia Lithwick delivers a prescient look at the politics of contemporary constitutional theory and the Roberts Court.
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Louisa May Alcott, the inspiration for Fifty Shades of Louisa May.
London has just been poetry-bombed. As part of the build-up to the summer Olympics, on Tuesday night, the Chilean art collective Casagrande dropped one hundred thousand poems from a helicopter on the south bank of London.
Summer in New York City can be bad now, but imagine what it was like before air conditioning. Arthur Miller recalls, “people on West 110th Street, where I lived, were a little too bourgeois to sit out on their fire escapes, but around the corner on 111th and farther uptown mattresses were put out as night fell, and whole families lay on those iron balconies in their underwear.”
The New Yorker remembers contributor Nora Ephron.
Harper Perennial’s Forty Stories, a collection featuring work by Shane Jones, Catherine Lacey, Adam Wilson, Blake Butler, Jess Walter, and Roxanne Gay, is now available to download as a PDF.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies put a camp twist on classic literature, but what if classic literature can put a twist on camp? That’s the proposition OR Books is making with Fifty Shades of Louisa May—a Fifty Shades of Gray-inspired “erotic diary” about Louisa May Alcott’s sex life.
Brazil has implemented an innovative new program to get prisoners reading—by bribing them with reduced sentences. According to Reuters, Brazilian prisoners are now able to slice up to forty-eight days a year off their prison sentences by reading books and writing reports on them.
The earliest printed atlas of the Americas has been restored to Sweden’s Royal Library after being discovered in Manhattan a year ago. The atlas was stolen from the Library by Anders Burius, a senior librarian dubbed “Royal Library Man” by the Swedish media after it was discovered in 2004 that he had been secretly selling off rare books. The atlas’s buyer, a New York map dealer, purchased the map at a Sotheby’s auction in 2003 for $100,000—roughly $350,000 below its estimated value.
In the wake of ongoing investigations into the News of the World phone-tapping scandal, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. is considering dividing its “publishing” division, which includes the newspapers the Wall Street Journal, the (London) Times, and the New York Post, from its far more lucrative entertainment segments. According to the New York Times, the papers have long been a financial drag on the $53 billion company, and given the hit that recent scandals have dealt to News Corp.’s reputation, talk is in the air of separating them from the cable channels. News Corp. editors and publishers met in New York on Wednesday, and a decision on the matter is expected any day now.