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The spin doctors handicap the effect of the Supreme Court ruling on the election

Justice Sonia Sotomayor: Onto something?
Justice Sonia Sotomayor: Onto something?Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The Supreme Court is currently in the midst of the third and final day of oral hearings on the Affordable Care Act. The Wall Street Journal Washington Wire blog is live-blogging the arguments.

Yesterday’s session, which was often bruising to defenders of the law, prompted plenty of spin from both sides of the political spectrum. Some commentators and politicians on the left observed that killing the individual mandate would redound to the president’s good fortune in the fall election by depriving Republicans of one of their key arguments.

Stephen Hayes of the Weekly Standard countered on last night’s panel on FOX News Channel's Special Report that repeal of any part of the law would be construed by many voters as emblematic of a president so extreme in his vision that his signature piece of legislation needed to be reined in by the Supreme Court.

Jonathan Bernstein, writing at the New Republic on Wednesday, engages in some wishful thinking, arguing that the verdict won’t matter that much anyway in November because American voters have short memories and most voters are partisan. Apart from sounding like “sour grapes,” Bernstein's overlooks the political reality that a failure to retain all or part of the law will become a major talking point for the Republican candidate, who, thus, won’t let voters forget it. If the candidate is Mitt Romney, as appears increasingly likely, the GOP's spin doctors are going to have their work cut out for them. But don't expect a law that has occupied so much of the American public's time and attention for so long to be swept under the rug.

One interesting sidebar based on comments made by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who interrupted challenger attorney Paul Clement to suggest that the fate of the law should be left “in the hands of people" and “not us,” meaning the high court. Obviously, she was referring not the people per se but to their representatives in Congress, who have already spoken on the law. But the statement raises an interesting question: Why not allow the people to decide the future of the health care law through a national referendum? Unprecedented? Without a doubt. Then again, unprecedented legislation calls for unprecedented measures.

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