John Roberts, Chief Justice of the United States, voted with the liberal Justices to uphold the constitutionality of the individual mandate in a decision that was announced today.
Some observers were surprised that a Justice widely considered to be conservative would be the deciding vote in a ruling that is the signature achievement of a Democratic President that voted against his nomination.
While the pundits and talking heads look at the ruling from every possible angle, one angle that is likely not to be discussed is the Michigan City/Bethlehem Steel angle – a viewpoint that I know well as this writer knew and worked with John Roberts father in the Burns Harbor Plant of what was then Bethlehem Steel.
John Roberts’ father (also John Roberts) was a foreman in the rolling mills at Burns Harbor. The mills ran 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. It was a hot, dirty, noisy, and dangerous place to work – a place where steelworkers truly labored to make steel and earn their living.
John Roberts senior was a decent, hardworking man who encouraged his son the Chief Justice to put on a hard hat and steel-toed boots and spend hot summers also working in the mill, side-by-side with union steelworkers who fought as grunts in Vietnam and maybe had a high-school education.
The Roberts family lived in an area known as Lake Shores, a middle-class neighborhood in the more blue-color “Bethlehem town” of Michigan City (as opposed to the more upscale, lilly-white town of Valparaiso). Across the highway from Lake Shores and within a mile of the Roberts home was a rural area called “The Patch,” which was populated by mostly by poor black families. The future Chief Justice spent his boyhood and adolescent with and around places of lesser affluence and people of lesser means and opportunity – folks who had to struggle to realize the American Dream.
Although Roberts junior went to a private high school and then moved onto a life of accomplishment and acclaim, it is not surprising at all to those who know something of his family and background that he – a man who came from middle class, hardworking, honest, and decent stock – would make a decision that helps millions of hardworking people gain the chance to prosper and live safer, healthier, and more fulfilled lives.