Thomas Nails It. Again.
Here is the Supreme Court Opinion in the doctor assisted suicide case called Gonzales v. Oregon. (Warning: pdf file.)
By a 6-3 decision, the Oregon law was upheld and the Federal government was told that it could not interfere with a prescription to assist in suicide.
I happen to agree with this decision on Federalism, i.e., constitutional grounds. But this is essentially the same issue that was before the Court last year in the medical marijuana case, Gonzales v. Raich.
So imagine my initial confusion, having not paid close attention to the case, when I learned the line-up. The 3 justices who voted to uphold the Federal government's power were Thomas, Scalia and Roberts.
Now, Roberts wasn't involved in Raich, so no conclusion can be drawn from that. And Scalia's and O'Conner's votes seemed consistent. O'Conner voted to overturn the Federal intrusion in Raich, as she did in Oregon. Likewise, Scalia's dissent is consistent with his vote in Raich, which was to uphold the Federal power.
But what was up with the other justices -- those who upheld the Feds in the Raich opinion and defeated the Feds in Oregon? And what of Thomas? Did he switch sides as well?
Well, I was interested, so I read the opinion to find out. The correct answer is that Thomas is only one that got both opinions correct.
What makes these two cases seeminly inconsistent is that the issues on the table are not the same. The Federalism issue (i.e., the Constitutional issues) was not on the table in this new case. The only issue was Administrative law and the deference given to the Feds to enforce the Federal law. For those that have never heard of "Administrative Law" before, don't worry. You probably have more awake hours than those of us who have read the decisions cited in this opinion.
Last year, the issue was Congress' power to prohibit medicinal marijuana. Thomas (and O'Conner and Renquist) dissented on Federalism grounds. They said Congress' commerce clause power didn't go that far. Scalia surprisingly (to most conservatives I know, and to me) joined the majority for a 6-3 ruling. I agreed with the 3 dissenters.
Today, the Court decided, under the same Federal laws and regs, the doctor assisted suicide law. Now, keep in mind, there the issue before the Supreme Court was not "Federalism." This was NOT a constitutional law case -- it was actually a federal administrative law case citing to really boring but important adminstrative case law cases.
In today's opinion, Thomas filed a seperate dissent. It is short and sweet, and the only one who nails it. If you read it, you will understand why.
This is one example of why Thomas is a good justice. He applied the law correctly. He relied on the case he dissented from on the Constitutional issue, and though he clearly doesn't like the outcome (for constitutional reasons), he pointed out that the other 5 justices on the Court were inconsistent in their reading of the same Federal law in back to back terms.
The Court blew the Constitutional issue last term. They blew the administrative law question this term. The only justice who was right in both cases was Thomas.