Dinner politics

Harlan Fiske Stone


In a fascinating though biased piece at http://www.dailybeast.com, Jonathan Alter speculates that a conversation over dinner in 1934 may have played a part as a precursor to last week’s momentous Supreme Court turnaround on Obamacare. Apparently, FDR’s Labor Secretary Frances Perkins, was worried (as was her boss), that the Court might invalidate many of the previous decade’s New Deal schemes, such as the NRA. President Coolidge’s only Supreme Court appointee and fellow Amherst alumnus Harlan F. Stone assuaged Perkins’ fears over dinner, stating in effect that anything framed as a tax fell under the broad taxing powers of the government and would be upheld.

Although Frances Perkins went to FDR and swore him to secrecy on the advance opinion from the court, the president and his administration were heartened by Stone’s view as it moved forward with what would become the most sweeping social program in American history. Obamacare (aka the Affordable Care Act)  is the completion of the all-encompassing insurance coverage that Roosevelt envisioned when he launched Social Security. By reaffirming its constitutionality in terms of the government’s taxing power, the 5-4 majority opinion of the Roberts court follows in the footsteps of Justice Stone, who was rewarded by FDR with the post of Chief Justice when it opened up in 1941.