A Lawyer's View of Landmark Decision

Walnut Creek Mayor Bob Simmons weighs in on health care decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The chief justice of the Supreme Court, John Roberts, may have had pride of authorship when he joined the majority affirming the legitimacy of the Obama Administration's health care reform, suggested a prominent Walnut Creek lawyer.

"One of the Chief Justice's powers is to assign the writing of an opinion when he is with the majority," wrote Walnut Creek Mayor Bob Simmons in an email. "The others can write concurring opinions, but not the court's opinion (which is what is normally cited as the precedent). So, by shifting to the majority, the Chief Justice got to write most of the opinion.

"It is not uncommon to see the views of a justice evolve over time, and some of the justices that started as conservatives (e.g., {Harry} Blackmun) ultimately became at least moderates. Maybe the new justices are having an impact. 

"In any case, I tend to believe that the justices take positions on cases in a way that is consistent with their views. I am not sure that there are very many (if any) times in which they write an opinion that is not consistent with their views. They have a long view of our history, and of their role in that history, so that's part of why I think most of what they write they believe in. There is a lot of pride in being a Supreme Court justice … Oftentimes, the Chief Justice is more sensitive to criticism of the court than other Justices, as he is its leader. If the Chief Justice had decided to rule against the statute, there would have been substantial criticism of the court. Maybe the Chief Justice wanted to quiet that criticism."

In summary

Simmons, a retired lawyer for the U.S. Agriculture Department,
cautioned that he had only looked over the summary of the decision.

"One of the reasons I retired from being a lawyer was so that I wouldn't have to read 193-page opinions or 'briefs' that made a mockery of that term," the mayor quipped.


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