Opening Day (at the Supreme Court)

The baseball season doesn’t start until next week, but Washington hosts a different opening day, as three days of oral arguments begin before the US Supreme Court in the challenge to the Affordable Care Act, the 2009 federal health care law. The case being heard by the court’s starting nine carries all the anticipation and build-up of next week’s first pitch — with much more at stake than avenging a historic September slide.

Yesterday’s New York Times provided this helpful primer that outlines the case and summarizes which points of contention will be argued on which day. Today’s arguments are on a fairly technical issue of timing, though it has the potential to delay for several years a ruling on the substance of the law.  Most of the attention will be focused on Tuesday, when the court will hear arguments over the health care mandate, which is at the heart of the reform law and is the central legal question at issue. The Obama administration and the law’s supporters say requiring that nearly all Americans obtain insurance fits well within Congress’s purview under the commerce clause of the Constitution.  Opponents say it overreaches by forcing people to enter into commercial transactions.

There is particular attention being paid to the case here, because the Massachusetts reform law served as a template for much of the federal law.  The Globe reviewed the Bay State connection to the federal law in this front-page story yesterday.

The Times revisits the complicated history between Ted Kennedy and Mitt Romney — from their  994 Senate race showdown to their 2006 partnership to pass the Massachusetts health care law.  Kennedy helped shape Romney’s career, writes Sheryl Gay Stolberg, and now haunts it. That’s because never far from the health care debate these days is talk of Mitt Romney’s role in the Massachusetts law — and his desperate effort to distance that measure from the federal law that many see as its biggest legacy.

While Romney tries to put lots of daylight between the state plan he championed as governor and the federal law he has decried as a presidential candidate, others seem to take particular delight in emphasizing how much the federal effort owes to Romney.  Chief among them is MIT economist Jonathan Gruber, who advised the Romney administration during the 2006 effort and now seems to be channeling Ted Kennedy and doing some of the late senator’s haunting for him. “If it weren’t for Mitt Romney, we wouldn’t have national health care reform,” Gruber tells the Globe.

Millions of dollars have been spent by groups on both sides pushing their arguments into the public debate in the run-up to this week’s Supreme Court arguments, and an unprecedented 136 “friend of the court” briefs have been filed by outside groups wanting to weigh in on the case. Whether any of it matters is another question.

Never mind our reference to opening day and baseball. It’s still March Madness, so give the last word to the normally taciturn Clarence Thomas, who, in a speech two weeks ago, said all the agitating and lobbying is akin to the yelling and waving that fans engage in behind the basket to try to rattle a free-throw shooter.  “You stay focused on what you’re supposed to do,” he said of the job of the free-throw shooter — and of the task he and his fellow justices have. “All that other stuff is just noise.”

                                                                                                                                –MICHAEL JONAS


Senate President Therese Murray has denied engaging in any illegal or inappropriate behavior after Friday’s federal indictment of three former Probation Department officials cites four instances in which she recommended people for jobs in the department. Bob DeLeo, on the other hand, is feeling “bulletproof.” Joe Battenfeld speculates that the Probation indictments will stop short of the State House.

The Eagle-Tribune reports that state Sen. Steven Baddour is about to step down to take a job with the law firm of McDermott, Will & Emery.

Pioneer Institute research director Steve Poftak has a top-10 list of ways the Patrick administration dodges and weaves its way around public information requests.  

Where there is a will, there is a way to end political patronage, argues The Berkshire Eagle.


Following six months of records request from the Boston Globe, Mayor Tom Menino released information on donors who have given $12.5 million to a city-run charity since he took office in 1993. Meanwhile, Menino sat down with Keller@Large for a wide-ranging discussion that includes his reaction to the controversial verdict in the Mattapan murders and his decision so far not to take sides in the US Senate race.

The town of Foxborough and the Kraft Group are feuding over billboard revenues.


Many in the Massachusetts congressional delegation hired or steered campaign funds to relatives, according to a report issued by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. The Lowell Sun has the story.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s nominee to the state Supreme Court is rejected by a legislative committee on a 7-6 vote, with Republicans calling it a “lynching,” the Newark Star-Ledger reports.

After 61 weeks of letter-writing about their concern over gas prices, the New Bedford City Council finally received a response from Sen. John Kerry, who wrote, “I wanted to get right back to you.”

Deconstructing the hoodie in the wake of Trayvon Martin’s death.

The Justice Department plans to look into the practice of asking prospective employees for their Facebook passwords.


The Republican slams Elizabeth Warren’s campaign team and says if she doesn’t get with the program — and get out to Western Mass — she doesn’t stand a chance against Scott Brown’s well-run machine.

The MetroWest Daily News analyzes the Etch A Sketch as political metaphor and notes that after the GOP candidates get done playing around with it, they might want to do something about the fact that they are made in China.

The Globe’s Glen Johnson takes the occasion of last week’s Etch A Sketch moment to fill in what he sees as the gist of the politics of Romney.  It’s not a pretty picture. The New York Times editorial page slams a super PAC backing Romney for allowing federal contractors to elude a longstanding ban on politicking.

Rick Santorum can’t stop, won’t stop. And speaking of: Frank Rich deconstructs the GOP’s awkward relationship with women.


The Globe reports that more employees are taking a stand, literally, at workplaces.

Illinois becomes the first state to sell individual lottery tickets online, USA Today reports.

The Atlantic asks, do young Americans not care about driving, or are they just broke?


The new chancellor for Umass Amherst will be named today. Two of the four candidates have already dropped out.

Salem is considering the voluntary use of uniforms by public school students, the Salem News reports.


Paul Levy says the state’s simplistic approach to penalize hospitals for rising patient readmission rates is not the right approach for a complex problem.

The federal Food and Drug Administration is taking steps to reduce “alarm fatigue,” which is believed to be responsible for hundreds of hospital deaths.


Unitil has the highest rates of any electric utility in the state, reports the Sentinel and Enterprise.

Lee considers several possible sites for solar power arrays.

Western Mass maple syrup producers celebrate their bountiful, if early, harvest.


The Globe reports that a backlogged state Parole Board has voted since last April to release 17 prisoners who were convicted of serious offenses, in many cases murder, but has yet to notify the inmates or families of their victims.

The state’s retirement board is moving to revoke the pension of a former correction officer who was convicted of first-degree murder in 2009.


The Green Bay Press Gazette, which earlier reported that 29 circuit court judges signed a petition seeking the recall of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, now reports that 25 journalists, including seven at the paper, also signed the petition.