The commentary on John Roberts’s solo walk into the Affordable Care Act wilderness is converging on a common theme: The Chief Justice is a genius. All of a sudden he is a chessmaster, a statesman, a Burkean minimalist, a battle-loser but war-winner, a Daniel Webster for our times.
Now that we’ve had more time to take in Chief Justice Roberts’s reasoning, we have a better summary: politician. In fact, his 5-4 ruling validating the constitutional arguments against purchase mandates and 5-4 ruling endorsing them as taxes is far more dangerous, and far more political, even than it first appeared last week.
This is a minority view. By right-left acclaim, at least among elites, the Chief Justice has engineered a Marbury v. Madison-like verdict that camouflages new limits on federal power as a reprieve for President Obama’s entitlement legacy and in a stroke enhanced the Supreme Court’s reputation—and his own. This purported “long game” appeals to conservatives who can console themselves with a moral victory, while the liberals who like to assail the Chief Justice as a radical foe of democracy can continue their tantrum.