A Bumpy Night Ahead

In the classic party scene in “All About Eve” (1950), which for my money features the best film script ever written, Bette Davis utters her most famous line in cinema, “Fasten your seatbelts: it’s going to be a bumpy night.” Yet in the set-up to that iconic moment, in a conversation between Davis, Gary Merrill, Celeste Holm, and Hugh Marlowe, the last makes a prescient observation that something is looming over the evening’s festivities: “The general atmosphere is very Macbeth-ish. What has, or is about to happen?” For those interested in the outcome of health care reform legislation in the United States, the mood right now could be construed as something rather similar.

This evening I will be attending a discussion featuring Kyle Duncan, General Counsel at Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, Peter Augustine Lawler, Professor at Berry College, and Father James Schall of Georgetown University, entitled “After Obamacare”. The panelists will examine the Supreme Court’s review of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, as challenged in two Florida cases: National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius and Florida v. United States Department of Health and Human Services. The timing of this panel discussion is rather good, for it is widely expected that the Supreme Court will issue decisions in these cases tomorrow.

The title of tonight’s event could be understood in different ways. One way is to use the line of thinking taken by a number of pundits, who assume that some or all of Obamacare will be found unconstitutional by a majority of the Court. However another would be to consider what happens if Obamacare is not, in fact, overturned or modified in some way by the Court. If it is legal, then pending some action by subsequent legislation, it will eventually no longer be able carry the admittedly polarizing term “Obamacare”, having stood up to judicial scrutiny.  Even though many believe that the doom is about to fall on this not-very-beloved part of the President’s agenda, the question is whether the forest is coming to Macbeth, or not – and no one really knows.

For Catholics like myself, the real question for us is what will happen with the so-called HHS Mandate, based on what the Court decides tomorrow. We are now in the midst of the Fortnight For Freedom, which I wrote about previously, and many events are taking place across the country to raise awareness of what the enforcement of this particular part of the healthcare law will mean to religious institutions. This includes a huge mass which will be held on the 4th of July here in Washington, which I will be attending, and at noon on that day Catholic churches and other religious communities who are participating with us will be ringing their church bells at noon in solidarity for the right of all to practice their religion free from government interference.

Lawsuits against the present Administration challenging the constitutionality of the HHS mandate are now working their way through the court systems, but have not yet made their way to the Supreme Court. Thus, unless tomorrow’s decision is a complete or substantial rejection of the new health care law, the fight against this aspect of the new law will likely have to go on. While there are many in new and social media who are gleefully anticipating that the Court will rule one way or another tomorrow, the truth is that the Court has surprised us many times before. So even though I am looking forward to tonight’s event, and hearing the opinions of those who have thought long and hard about these matters, the truth is that we simply do not know what we are in for.

In “All About Eve”, the party scene concludes with everyone stumbling off home, after an evening spent bickering viciously with one another while sipping highly potent cocktails – as Bette Davis observes, party guests don’t care what they drink as long as it burns. As a country we have been having such an evening for the past two years now, perhaps not as festive an evening but certainly with a burn to it, as this law has made its way through the court system. What the hangover will be like after tomorrow, no one wants to think about right now, but whatever the outcome, one feels certain that a hangover of some kind there will be.

Celeste Holm and Bette Davis in “All About Eve”

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