In the broken world of American politics, there's perhaps only one occasion that truly settles an argument.
That would be a unanimous Supreme Court verdict.
Whether at the federal level or in a state like Missouri, if 100 percent of the judges reach agreement in a court of last resort, the ball game is over. If you're on the winning side, you take a victory lap. If you're the loser, you pipe down.
This principle holds true for both sides of the great political divide.
When the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously rejected Republican efforts to overthrow American democracy in Pennsylvania and Texas last December, the matter was settled for rational people. Maybe not for the deranged and defeated cult leader for whom it was offered up. But it was over.
On the opposite side, the same principle applied when the same Supreme Court ruled last month in favor of a Catholic child welfare organization in Philadelphia. All nine justices concluded that the charity had a right to decline to place foster children with same-sex couples. It was over.
We in the unwashed mass can think whatever we want about any particular judge. But when every single one of them makes the same call after judicial consideration of the same set of facts, one cannot say with an ounce of credibility that they all must be idiots.
Hate the outcome? Fine. But unanimous Supreme Courts don't get the law wrong.
Which brings us to Missouri. Here's a nice summary of what happened regarding the issue of Medicaid expansion, courtesy of the Twitter account of attorney Chuck Hatfield, who co-counseled Missouri citizens' case heroically with attorney Lowell Pearson:
"7-0 ruling from the Mo Supreme Court makes the following clear: 1) voters expanded the group eligible for Medicaid 2) there is money in the budget to pay for their healthcare 3) the State must enroll them. The details of the injunction are left to the trial court (that's normal)."
7-0 ruling from the Mo Supreme Court makes the following clear: 1) voters expanded the group eligible for Medicaid 2) there is money in the budget to pay for their healthcare 3) the State must enroll them. The details of the injunction are left to the trial court( that’s normal).— Chuck Hatfield (@chuckhatfield) July 22, 2021
Everyone got that? It's over.
All seven judges of the Missouri Supreme Court considered both sides of a Medicaid argument that has torn apart the state for some time, and guess what? The judges weren't torn apart at all.
They unanimously arrived at the same conclusion, one that seems rather obvious after all is said and done: Missourians acted constitutionally when enacting a constitutional amendment. So, the vote in August 2020 to expand Medicaid was resolved in favor of the side with the most votes.
Perhaps that's a great victory for the hopeless romantics of democracy. Or maybe for common sense. Maybe for both. But far more important, it's a critical lifeline for at least 275,000 of our fellow Missouri citizens — working individuals with terribly low incomes for whom decent health care should not be an unattainable luxury item.
The fact that the state's iron-fisted Republican majority politicians would have had the audacity to attempt to reject the will of the people wasn't shocking. Not after they repeatedly pulled the same trick in recent decades on subjects ranging from concealed carry of guns to regulations of puppy mills to raising minimum wages and so on.
But this one was a little different. The Republican efforts to rob their own constituents of health care and to pillage the state economy in the process was some new level of political immorality. This wasn't amoral. This was immoral.
In that context, it shouldn't come as a shock that these politicians have reacted as ultimate losers to their decisive and undeniable defeat. There was no contrition, no public acceptance of defeat. No humility.
Keep in mind, this isn't some liberal court. Of the seven judges, four are Republican appointees: two from former Governor Matt Blunt, one from disgraced ex-Governor Eric Greitens and one from Governor Mike Parson.
That didn't provoke statesmanship from Parson. It offered the opposite. Upon first learning of the verdict, the governor's office indicated it would need to be given a bit more time to gather its thoughts. That's totally understandable. It's not as if the chief executive of a state should be expected to react to events quickly.
But Parson finally hitched up his boots and bravely had his press person speak for him. Here's how that went, as reported by St. Louis Public Radio:
"Parson spokeswoman Kelli Jones said in a statement that 'after today's court decision, the Executive Branch still lacks the necessary budget authority to implement MO HealthNet coverage to the expanded population.
"'We are looking at what options may be available to us to seek additional budget authority and also pursuing legal clarity."'
Now that's interesting. The governor of the state of Missouri requires more "legal clarity" than a unanimous Missouri Supreme Court decision. And what might that be? A version of the decision written in crayon?
Similarly incisive was state Senator Bob Onder of St. Charles County, a man who had expressed supreme confidence in winning at the Supreme Court. I know this, because he said so on my KTRS radio show.
Onder tweeted a link to a news story about the decision, adding the hashtags #JudicialActivism and #BlackRobedTyrants.
Really now. Onder is a man whose resume says he received a law degree from Saint Louis University (along with a medical degree from Washington University). To be fair, the medical degree has not prevented Onder from defying almost the entire medical community on the matter of COVID-19 with the sophistication of a Trump University alum.
But Onder truly hit rock bottom in slandering Missouri's top judges — across party lines and all others — as "black-robed tyrants" and judicial activists. Wow.
The lack of grace is not just appalling. It's foreboding. It suggests that taking Medicaid away from Republican politicians as a cultural wedge issue will continue to be like taking raw meat from the mouth of a growling dog. And I apologize to canines for the comparison.
It seems fairly likely that although the legal issue has been settled — the governor's lack of comprehension notwithstanding — the political issue will rage on. At some point, the Republican majority in both houses of the General Assembly and the Republican governor are going to have to appropriate enough money to meet their legal obligation to their citizens. Or else.
Frankly, it's not entirely clear what "else" might mean. Perhaps the politicians will make a public showing out of punishing some other part of the state budget to fund the state's Medicaid requirements. Perhaps they'll test whether they can let the entire program go broke to see what happens.
Or maybe they'll go the more traditional route, using racist dog whistles and the customary efforts to demonize and traumatize Medicaid recipients in disgust over their need for help from the government. That, after all, is supposed to be the province of campaign contributors.
We'll just have to wait and see what happens. In the meantime, though, here's a question for Missouri's Republican Party, paraphrasing the aforementioned cult leader:
Are you tired of losing yet?
Ray Hartmann founded the Riverfront Times in 1977. Contact him at [email protected] or catch him on Donnybrook at 7 p.m. on Thursdays on the Nine Network and St. Louis In the Know With Ray Hartmann from 9 to 11 p.m. Monday thru Friday on KTRS (550 AM).