Part of me thinks that if Bush v. Gore didn’t destroy the court’s reputation as an impartial arbiter of the law — as no less an authority than Justice John Paul Stevens warned it might — then probably nothing will. But public approval of the Court has been dropping over the last few years, and a party-line, 5-4 vote against the biggest, most politically charged issue of President Obama’s presidency probably wouldn’t have helped.
And, apparently, that almost happened. The Court’s ruling on the Affordable Care Act came so close to striking down the law’s individual mandate that both CNN and Fox initailly reported that it had. It established a more radical reading of the Commerce Clause — the idea that Congress can regulate industries that do business across state lines — than even the law’s opponents expected a year ago. And yet some deft maneuvering by Chief Justice Roberts managed to soft-pedal the impact of the ruling and turned him into a hero of judicial restraint.