So maybe John Roberts isn't going to get much love for saving ObamaCare's ass after all. Writing for New York magazine, Jonathan Chait shows us a worldview in which Roberts's legal contortions to save what Adam Serwer at Mother Jones calls "[t]he largest expansion of the American welfare state since the Great Society" is actually a dastardly right-wing plot to reinterpret the Constitution in a really, really right-wing-y way according to a gradual, sneaky strategy.
The fearful part is that five justices ruled that the Affordable Care Act cannot be upheld under the Commerce Clause. This is a bizarre and implausibly narrow reading — if Congress cannot regulate the health-care market, then it cannot really regulate interstate commerce. By endorsing this precedent, Roberts opens the door for future courts to revive the Constitution in Exile.
But Roberts will do it by a process of slow constriction, carefully building case upon case to produce a result that over time will, if he prevails, rewrite the shape of American law. What he is not willing to do is to impose his vision in one sudden and transparently partisan attack. Roberts is playing a long game.
You gotta give it to Chait. No slacker he, the man doesn't take a break from seeing monsters under the bed to savor the moment.
Update: Slate's Tom Scocca endorses the we-got-played conspiracy view:
Yes, Roberts voted to uphold the individual mandate, joining the court's liberal wing to give President Obama a 5-4 victory on his signature piece of legislation. Right-wing partisans are crying treason; left-wing partisans saw their predictions of a bitter, party-line defeat undone.
But the health care law was, ultimately, a pretext. This was a test case for the long-standing—but previously fringe—campaign to rewrite Congress' regulatory powers under the Commerce Clause.