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Supporters of President Barack Obama’s health care law celebrate outside the Supreme Court in Washington Thursday after the court’s ruling was announced.
Having played a critical role in its passage, I was immediately called upon to provide local, state and national interviews. As requested, I promised my law firm that before providing comment, I would discuss the court’s ruling with my colleagues. The initial report on my iPhone declaring that the individual mandate was struck down by the court, later proved to be false.
As we learned, the Supreme Court upheld the individual mandate and the entire law was ruled constitutional. A flood of emotions rushed over me. I felt a sense of relief and satisfaction. I reflected back upon my 20 years in elected office and my deep conviction that every citizen has a right to private health insurance to protect their families from the financial devastation that unexpected illness or injury can cause.
The fight for affordable health care for all Americans never strayed far from my mind, and I was proud to deliver the deciding votes to pass the Affordable Care Act in Congress. During the health-care debate, I was both glorified and vilified by the right and the left, the right-wing conservatives, the left-wing liberals, the Catholic Church, the Tea Party, and even some friends and relatives. However, after almost 100 years of attempts at national health care, I could not allow this opportunity to fail. We were so close. My mentor Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) had dedicated his entire career to this effort. Senator Ted Kennedy had fought this same fight during his long and distinguished career. So, last Thursday, when the highest court in our land declared the law that I helped pass constitutional, I felt gratified.
A few weeks after Congress passed the Affordable Care Act, I was in Indianapolis for the NCAA Final Four with my wife and son. As we walked to Lucas Stadium to watch Michigan State face Butler in the semifinals, a man on the street hawking Final Four programs began to shout “Hey, I know you! Hey, I know you!” I finally said, “No, I don’t think so.” Without missing a beat he said, “Yes I do! You’re the guy who got me health care!” As I passed, he said, “Thank you and God bless!” He made me feel proud of my decisive vote. I had accomplished what I set out do when I first ran for Congress. It was shortly thereafter that our lives were threatened and resulted in 24-hour law enforcement protection.
I often think about this man, a street peddler hawking basketball programs to earn a few bucks. We gave him a chance at a better life. We gave him hope and security. He didn’t have a lobbyist or a special interest group pushing his agenda. He was an American struggling to get by and make ends meet. This is America at its best, for we are all our brothers’ keepers.
For those of us who seek social justice, defined and emboldened by a deep faith, there can be many risks and challenges in the political arena and in everyday life. Today, the most seductive risks to our view of social justice are power and greed. Power and greed can lead to corruption and deceit. In our democracy, the path of least resistance for elected officials and the esteemed members of the Supreme Court is to succumb to the voices of the rich and powerful and not our brother on the street. I applaud the courage of Chief Justice John Roberts to uphold the Constitution, vote his conscience, and allow the Affordable Health Care Act to provide health care to all Americans.
The faith in social justice to form a more perfect union as envisioned by our forefathers lies in our Constitution when the court and political leaders have the courage to embrace it. I encourage President Obama to protect the religious freedom guaranteed in our Constitution and as outlined in his executive order accompanying the Affordable Care Act.
As I began my interviews, the opening question was always the same, “Do you feel vindicated?” I believe vindicated is too strong of a word – validated or exonerated may be more appropriate, and yes, I would do it all over again.
Bart Stupak, a former Mich. Democratic congressman, played a key role in passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. He is is a partner in Venable’s legislative and government affairs group.
View Photo Gallery: The Supreme Court’s decision Thursday is a major victory for the White House less than five months before the November election. The law will affect the health-care choices of millions of Americans.