Week In News: Obama's Health Law Constitutional

This week D.C. Court of Appeals agreed with the White House that the health care law does not violate the Constitution. The court's senior judge, a respected conservative voice, wrote the majority opinion. Weekends on All Things Considered guest host Jacki Lyden speaks with James Fallows of The Atlantic about this story and others from the past week.

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JACKI LYDEN, HOST:

James Fallows of The Atlantic joins us now, as he does most Saturdays, for a look behind the headlines.

And, Jim, of course, this Penn State story has raised a lot of questions about the laws on the books in Pennsylvania, about what's expected of people who witness crimes like these. Not only moral questions, legal questions, a long list of questions.

JAMES FALLOWS: And certainly so, there's going to be questions about university governance, about the culture of big-time sports, about the sort of a God coach culture that exists in many football and basketball teams. But there also, in the short term, are going to be a lot of legal questions. And this will depend to a significant degree on the details of the so-called mandatory reporter laws.

Every state has some version of this. And they all require that if somebody sees a suspected case of child abuse, where it certainly seem to be the case in these Penn State stories, in that person's professional capacity, that is as a teacher or a doctor or as a football coach, too, then there's an obligation to report. Now, the obligation differs state by state in exactly who you were supposed to report that to - to the police, to your superior's organizationally. And so, that's what the next stage, I think, will be - well, concern of who at Penn State and in that larger world did exactly what, when to report what they had seen.

LYDEN: Jim, in another story this week, a federal appeals court sided with the White House, affirming the constitutionality of the health care law, which had been challenged. Now, this is very likely headed to the Supreme Court. But this ruling surprised a lot of people.

FALLOWS: Yes, this was significant in two ways. One was the author of the ruling, Senior Judge Laurence Silberman is as rock-ribbed a conservative figure as you would want to find in jurisprudence. He was appointed by Ronald Reagan. He's been an esteemed conservative judge. And he dealt with the main contention against the constitutionality of the Obama health care plan, which was that there was a distinction between Congress' ability to regulate the doing of something and the regulating of the not doing of something. That is not buying health insurance coverage.

And Judge Silberman said that wasn't really a substantial claim, and he threw that out. There was a dissent by another Republican judge. But I think the fact that we now have two of the three appeals courts that have ruled on this have ruled in favor of the Obama law. And that you had a very, very staunch and distinguished jurors coming down this main point made it a moment of success for the Obama side.

LYDEN: Let's turn to foreign news. The Arab League voted today to suspend Syria from its ranks. Syria is fighting that suspension. This comes almost a year since the Arab Spring began. A lot of people had been urging the Arab League to do so, but that, too, has been surprising.

FALLOWS: Yes. This is an extremely unusual event, as you well know, Jacki, for the Arab League because I believe it's only been twice before in their history they'd suspended members. And I think it's a sign both of how difficult the situation in Syria is becoming. It's becoming the bloodiest chapter in the Arab uprising, and it's the sense that the Assad regime is being marginalized and isolated from all sides.

Also, there is the very important sense that the other members of the Arab League are increasingly nervous about the rising role of Iran in the region. The Assad regime in Syria is one of Iran's strongest allies. And so, there is that way in which they're showing concern about that too.

LYDEN: Yes, this is a historical point. 1968, Egypt was suspended for recognizing Israel. And then, as you know, earlier this year, Libya. Finally, Jim, to Italy, where the parliament voted to accept the economic reforms requested by the European Union. And consequently just this evening, as has been expected, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has resigned. The biggest victim of the European financial crisis, Italy, yes?

FALLOWS: It certainly is so far. And the Berlusconi regime was going to come to an end at some point anyway. He's been in for 17 years. He's in all kinds of personal legal troubles himself. But it is worth noting this drama of the past two weeks now where two sovereign governments, democratically elected governments, have had to resign because of concern from beyond their orders about the nature of their currency, especially from the Germans and the French, about what is happening to the euro.

So the tension that was built into the European financial union from the beginning where you have sovereign governments somehow giving up their sovereignty to bankers in the other parts of the continent, we're seeing it in a very dramatic form now.

LYDEN: James Fallows is national correspondent with The Atlantic. And you can read his blog at jamesfallows.theatlantic.com. Jim, as ever, thanks so much.

FALLOWS: My pleasure, Jacki.

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