There has been a lot of hyperventilating about the Supreme Court lately.
Politicians, pundits and activists from both sides of the political spectrum have declared that whatever the Court decides about President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, the ruling will be one of the most important in history.
Without a doubt, health care is a mess in America and one of the top issues of our time.
And though today’s decision by the Supreme Court could be huge, it ranks nowhere among the most significant in history.
For example, Marbury v. Madison (1803) established the Supreme Court's authority to strike down acts of Congress. How big is that?
Without Marbury v. Madison, the Court might not be ruling on Obamacare today.
In Gideon v. Wainwright (1963) the Court decided that criminal defendants have the right to an attorney and that legal counsel must be provided to people who cannot afford it.
After the ruling Robert F. Kennedy observed: "If an obscure Florida convict named Clarence Earl Gideon had not sat down in his prison cell…to write a letter to the Supreme Court…the vast machinery of American law would have gone on functioning undisturbed. But Gideon did write that letter, the Court did look into his case…and the whole course of American legal history has been changed."
That sounds like another biggy to me.
As is the better-known Miranda v. Arizona (1966), which protects a suspect from self-incrimination. “You have the right to remain silent…”
And, of course, there are other monumental decisions that shaped American life.
Brown v. Board of Education (1954) relegated the words “separate but equal” to the dustbin of history and strengthened the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Roe v. Wade (1973) invalidated state laws prohibiting first trimester abortions and in doing so established a new understanding of personal liberty and privacy rights.
Bush v. Gore (2000) more or less decided the presidency.
The Court has also botched some major decisions.
Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857) ruled that blacks, regardless if they lived in a free state, could not become United States citizens. That decision was so awful that it took two Constitutional Amendments -- the Thirteenth and Fourteenth -- to invalidate it.
So when you hear a lot of hype about today’s Supreme Court decision on Obamacare, take a deep breath and put it into perspective.
Our country has been shaped by far more significant legal battles.
No matter what the Court determines, the meaning and impact of “health care reform” will be unknown for many more years.
Today, one battle in an ongoing political war will be decided. That is all.
Chuck Thies is a political analyst and consultant. His columns appear every Tuesday and Thursday on First Read DMV. He co-hosts "DC Politics" on WPFW, 89.3 FM. Since 1991, Chuck has lived in either D.C., Maryland or Virginia. Email your tips and complaints to firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet at @chuckthies.