Friday, June 29, 2012

Struggling to Get the Facts: Decoding the Supreme Court's Affordable Care Act Decision

I was browsing the internet yesterday when the Supreme Court delivered its decision on Obamacare. I have long supported a more universal state-sponsored healthcare program, so I was concerned that the Supreme Court would overturn the measure along purely partisan lines. Like many Americans, the first place I turned was to because of their politically moderate reputation. Browsing to the page I was dismayed to see my worst fears had come true: the Supreme Court had declared Obamacare unconstitutional. I shut my computer and went downstairs, the dream of universal heath insurance was over.

Only it wasn't because the Court had not declared the measure unconstitutional. CNN had dropped the ball and misreported the story. As I tried to find more information about the decision I was struck by a troubling pattern: every news network was having difficulty reporting on the decision because of the legal language the decision was rendered in. This got me thinking: if legal experts at the major news networks were having trouble parsing the Court's decision, what hope did American's not trained in law have for understanding why the court rendered Obamacare constitutional? There has been such a push to make government more transparent, but there has been little focus on the Supreme Court. Popular participation is one of the founding pillars of American democracy and in the digital age, it seems like there should be a way of putting Supreme Court decisions out there in plain English so that the average American citizen can understand both the decision and the rationale of the court.

In a world where the news has become increasingly partisan - a reflection on the overall political climate - the government owes it to its citizens to explain legislation and legal rulings to them in language they can understand. Tea Party activists and other political radicals have often keyed on popular misunderstanding to propagate conspiracy theories, undermining federal authority and draining confidence in government. American voters are frequently criticized for being uninformed and often rightly so. However, if Americans cannot gain easy access to the information they need to make an informed voting decision it is difficult to solely blame them for the failures of American democracy and it sows the seeds for future anti-government political radicalism.

Here is a link to the official transcript of the Supreme Court's decision yesterday.

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