IT’S HARD TO overstate how much was at stake as Chief Justice John Roberts began reading the Supreme Court’s decision on the health care law Thursday morning:the fate of 50 million Americans who lack health insurance; possibly, President Obama’s own fate; the outcome of a reform battle that dates back 100 years; and the scope of Congress’s powers going forward. The 5-4 decision upholding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was, first and foremost, a victory for the president and the law’s supporters. But it also stands as a victory of sorts for conservatives in the limits it sets on federal power.
The confusion as the decision was being announced — CNN and Fox News erroneously reported that the individual mandate at the heart of the law had been struck down — stemmed from Roberts’ unexpected approach to the case. He began by endorsing the argument made by the law’s opponents (and Justices Scalia, Thomas, Alito, and Kennedy) that the mandate violates the Commerce Clause of the Constitution.