The Supreme Court decision on ObamaCare was a shock to just about everyone. The logic of the decision itself makes little legal and rational sense, as scores of both Liberal and Conservative attorneys and legal academics have pointed out. Most analysts see it as Justice Roberts’ ploy to protect the Supreme Court against accusations of being “partisan” if the vote had been strictly along “party” lines. People applaud or denounce the ploy, of course, largely along partisan boundaries, but few disagree that it was a results-oriented ruling, not a rational legal decision.
I denounce it because it was weak-kneed, and it will not even accomplish Justice Roberts’ sorry attempt to protect the Supreme Court’s reputation. Now the Supreme Court looks like an institution that will vote to protect its own appearance of bi-partisanship above its core responsibility of making objective legal rulings. The fact that the Supreme Court played this game on a matter of fundamental Constitutional importance is appalling. It actually makes the Supreme Court look less reputable, less reliable, and more susceptible to partisan influence and manipulation.
The practice of results-oriented “decisions” is common in the federal appeals court system. We saw it happen a number of times with the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in the Enron cases. Perhaps the most abusive example happened to Enron Broadband Services (EBS) defendant, Rex Shelby. In the initial EBS trial, the defendants received zero convictions — they received acquittals on some counts, and the jury hung on other counts. Instead of dismissing the hung counts, as is fairly common practice, the Feds re-indicted the defendants on the hung counts, simply because they knew that they could get away with just about anything in an Enron case.
Scott Yeager won a motion to dismiss his hung counts at the Supreme Court based on a double jeopardy provision, one of the most basic Constitutional protections of this country’s legal system. This should have made the dismissal of Rex Shelby’s hung counts a foregone conclusion because his situation was essentially the same as Yeager’s case. However, in order to avoid that outcome, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, in a shockingly ridiculous decision, ruled that the Supreme Court decision in Scott Yeager’s case did not change any law and that, therefore, Shelby could not appeal his case.
This, of course, was transparently a results-based decision by the 5th Circuit. The text of the ruling is so inane and illogical that even a layman can see that the 5th Circuit was determined to have the outcome it wanted even though there was no rational basis for it. Clearly, the Supreme Court did, in fact, change the underlying law in the Yeager case — in fact that decision has already been used by a number of non-Enron defendants to gain dismissals of counts. But because Rex Shelby was associated with Enron, the legal protections accorded to all other defendants in this country were denied him.
This is one of those details of the Enron prosecutions that is largely unknown and uninteresting to the press and public because it deals with a level of detail in the legal process that people generally do not want to even try to understand. But it is a stark example of how the Constitutional protections of our legal system can be denied to individuals when the courts do not do their jobs and when the press and public accept the misconduct. And the lack of outrage by the press and the public about the misconduct of the Feds in the Enron cases show how “morally flexible” people seem to be — they are entirely willing to accept abuse, just so long as that abuse is heaped on the people they do not care about. As I have said before, I am fond of people in general, but sometimes I despair about the shallowness of humans — we seem to choose to be morally outraged only when it is convenient for us and when if fits with our biases.