Republicans Attack the Supreme Court’s Opinion Before They’ve Read It

How you look at things.
June 28 2012 7:26 PM

Rip, Don’t Read

Republicans attack the Supreme Court’s health care ruling before they’ve even read it.

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Rep. Michele Bachmann speaks after the Supreme Court upheld President Obama's health care law

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.

Read the rest of Slate’s coverage on the Supreme Court upholding the Affordable Care Act.

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

Three years ago, congressional Republicans were outraged that they weren’t given enough time to read the Affordable Care Act. They said it was irresponsible to ask them to vote on the bill without at least three days to read it. But today, within minutes of the Supreme Court’s ruling on the ACA, these same Republicans leapt to mischaracterize the court’s 193 pages of opinions before they could possibly have read them. Here’s a chronology of what they said then and what they did today.

Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo.:*

Oct. 28, 2009: “Before a bill comes to the floor for any kind of vote, it should be out for at least several days so people have some kind of chance to read the legislation. Yet we have seen over the period of the last nine months that a number of major pieces of legislation have come to this floor without time for the Members to read them.”

June 28, 2012: Within 75 minutes, Akin posted a press release mischaracterizing the court’s opinion: “This is a crushing blow to freedom and an absolute insult to the dignity of all Americans.  I am deeply disappointed in the Supreme Court for giving the government the authority to force citizens to buy a product.” (The court actually ruled that the government couldn’t force anyone to buy a product—it could only tax those who refused.)

Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn.:

July 20, 2009: “This is a Congress that is in a hurry … They are on a blitzkrieg path. They have to get everything done yesterday. We can't have time to read bills. … It isn't that Members of Congress are lazy. And it isn't that Members of Congress are too stupid to be able to read these bills. It is the fact that the Democrat leadership in this House is unwilling to allow us to read the bills. … If we have to read over 1,000 pages or 1,100 pages in a bill in 13 hours, we're going to need to have maybe those recordings where they're sped up a little bit so it sounds like Alvin and the Chipmunks reading a bill to us.”

June 28, 2012: She posted her characterization of the court’s opinion 40 minutes after its release. She was giving interviews within the hour and went on CNN within 90 minutes, claiming that the court “rewrote Obamacare in line with its own designs.” A few minutes later she hosted a Tea Party press conference at which she called the court’s ruling “inexplicable … with no foundation in our Constitution for upholding the individual mandate” and asserted that the government now “has power to force every one of you to buy—to force you to purchase whatever product or service government tells you to buy.”

Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga.:

July 14, 2009: “I just signed a pledge this afternoon to the American people that I will not vote for this bill until I read it, and I meant that.”

June 28, 2012: Within 50 minutes, he posted a heated mischaracterization of Chief Justice John Roberts’ opinion: “He couldn’t have been more wrong by choosing to circumvent the Constitution this morning. Even worse, I fear that the High Court has opened Pandora’s box by blatantly disregarding the law, and there will no longer be any real limits to what the federal government will be able to force the American people to do.”

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas:

Oct. 6, 2009: “Will we know what is in the bill before we are required to vote on it? … I have heard it time and time again, particularly since the passage of the stimulus bill that we got roughly at 11 o'clock on a Thursday night and were required to vote on in less than 24 hours—my constituents are saying: Is it asking too much to have you read the bill before you vote on it? I voted no on that bill for a lot of reasons, but I didn't have the time, nor I suspect did many Members of Congress have the time, to read it before we were required to vote on it.”

June 28, 2012: Within 50 minutes, he tweeted a link to his characterization of the opinion as a political message: “The Supreme Court made clear today that the American people will be the ultimate judge of ObamaCare.”

Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C.:

July 21, 2009: “The Speaker and the majority leader are all in a rush to pass legislation here. So much in a rush, they will not even give Members a chance to read the bills. ... I have promised that I will not vote for any health care legislation that is not publicly available in its final form for at least 72 hours in advance of a vote. Every Member of Congress should have time to read the health care bill they are asked to vote on.”

June 28, 2012: Apparently within 10 minutes, she tweeted: “#UNCONSTITUTIONAL: #SCOTUS overturns #Obamacare's individual insurance #mandate.” Oops! She later deleted the tweet.

Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga.:

July 14, 2009: “Any health care reform legislation that comes to the floor must be available to all Members and to the public for a sufficient amount of time before we are asked to vote for it. … Too short of a review period is unacceptable and only undermines Congress' ability to pass responsible health care reform that works for all Americans.”

Nov. 19, 2009: “Particularly when we draft 2,000-page bills … write these bills in the dark of night and then just throw them out there in front of us and say you've got 24 hours to read it and vote up or down.”

June 28, 2012: Within 80 minutes, he blasted Chief Justice Roberts on CNN. “I'm angry, mad at Chief Justice John Roberts … They didn't dare call it a tax. But all of a sudden, Justice Roberts says it's a tax.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.:

Sept. 17, 2009: “Before we bring any legislation to the floor, we need to make sure the American people and all of our colleagues, every single one of them, have the time to carefully read it and evaluate its potential effects on our health care system and the economy in general. Americans got rushed on the stimulus. They will not be rushed on health care.”

Sept. 30, 2009: “This rush effort to reorganize one-sixth of our economy, a $1 trillion bill, well over 1,000 pages that nobody has taken the time to read…”

June 28, 2012: Within 40 minutes, he tweeted a link to a  video response he had already recorded.

Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif.:

July 28, 2009: “Let's take the time to read this bill and give the American people the opportunity to learn how much this is going to impact their lives every day.”

June 28, 2012: Apparently within 10 minutes, he tweeted: “Breaking: #Obamacare individual mandate ruled unconstitutional.” Oops! He later deleted the tweet.

Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga.:

July 28, 2009: MEMBERS NEED TO READ THE HEALTH CARE BILL BEFORE VOTING ON IT … What was one of the major concerns with the nonstimulus spending bill and the national energy tax that have flown through the House? Well, you know what it was, Mr. Speaker. Nobody read the bill. So what should we do with this health care bill? Well, I would suggest that we read the bill.”

June 28, 2012: Within 45 minutes, he posted a hyperbolic statement: “Today's ruling by the Supreme Court has set a dangerous precedent by allowing this administration to continue pursuing its unbridled effort to erode personal freedom and undo the principles upon which this country was founded.”

Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn.:

July 10, 2009: “Not one Congressman of the 219 that voted for that ever read the bill, and it will affect every American. I want to challenge this body right here and now not to bring a bill here in two weeks which no one has read, which affects the most precious decision, the care of you and your family and your children, and you haven't even read it. The American people need to know every dot and T in that bill before we have the audacity to pass that bill.”

June 28, 2012: Within 25 minutes, he tweeted a link to statement mischaracterizing the court’s opinion: “I am truly disappointed with the decision because there does not seem to be a limit to what the federal government can compel us to do.”

Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La.:

July 22, 2009: “That's why they're trying to ram this bill through by the end of next week, without the American people being able to read the bill, because they know when people read this stuff, they're going to revolt.”

June 28, 2012: At Bachmann’s Tea Party press conference, he asserted, “One thing that the Supreme Court did confirm today is that President Obama broke his word to the American people. … The Supreme Court today confirmed in fact this is a tax, a massive tax increase on American families, middle-class families.”

Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss.:

Oct. 21, 2009: We have all heard the outcry from our constituents asking us to read the bills before we vot”e on them. I think we should go one step further than reading this health care bill ourselves: We should allow the public to read the bill themselves. Just recently, eight of my friends on the other side of the aisle sent a letter to the majority leader demanding—rightly—that this health care legislation be made available for 72 hours before the Senate proceeds with this bill.”

June 28, 2012: Within 80 minutes, he tweeted a mischaracterization of the court’s opinion:  “SCOTUS decision points out #Obamacare is major tax increase - drives up costs for patients & taxpayers.”

Correction, July 2, 2012: This article originally misidentified Todd Akin as a congressman from Mississippi. (Return to the corrected sentence.)