WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court ruling on health care reform was like Palm Sunday in reverse: First they crucified Chief Justice John Roberts, then, upon his ruling, they hauled out the palm fronds.
“They” would be the various pundits, academics and others who let Roberts know in advance that if his court overturned “Obamacare,” he would be revealed and remembered as a partisan hack.
But then: Hosanna, Eureka and Praise Jesus, Allah and Abraham! Roberts, a conservative, devout Catholic who probably doesn't personally like any part of this law, sided with the liberal wing of the court and upheld the legislation. Cue Handel's “Hallelujah” chorus.
And the skies parted, the tides receded and climate change became a sidebar to the blessings of Roberts' brilliance. Now we pause to caffeinate. What follows is a bit complicated, as bureaucracies would have it.
First, let's be clear: All arguments that the court is a far-right cudgel hovering over our delightful, evenhanded, fair-minded, nonpartisan democratic Republic are off the table. And celebrants of the court as just and true and lovely only when it suits their personal agendas should put their bumper stickers and sparklers in a lockbox.
One of several ironies of Thursday's ruling is that liberals are crowing about winning something they didn't actually win. Yes, the court ruled that Obamacare is constitutional, but not on the basis of the Commerce Clause, as proposed by the Obama administration. Instead, the court ruled that the individual mandate to purchase insurance falls under Congress' authority to tax and therefore is constitutional.
In other words, according to the high court, Obamacare constitutes a tax, which the administration and the legislation's authors repeatedly insisted was not the case. It is considered a tax because the government will “tax” those Americans who decline to purchase health insurance. This alone is the reason Obamacare passed constitutional muster.
Meanwhile, the Commerce Clause remains intact, which is cause for conservatives to celebrate. It is not as elastic as it might have been had the court embraced Obama's justification for the mandate. We will not, in fact, all have to eat broccoli, as Justice Scalia proposed in one of his characteristically humorous hypotheticals during oral arguments.